By ANALEZA WALKER and DAVID STRUETT
A report accusing City Colleges of inflating graduation numbers has become a lightning rod for opinions.
Some are defending the school as doing the best it can for students, and others are using the report to blame City Colleges for Chicago-style corruption.
The report, published by Crain’s Chicago Business and the Better Government Association (BGA), claims that City Colleges of Chicago inflated its graduation numbers by using the following practices: relaxing degree requirements, relying on the relatively uncommon but more easily acquired Associates in General Studies degree, issuing double degrees, and issuing “retroactive” degrees, even to students who have not studied at City Colleges since the 1990s.
The article, titled “A degree? Easy. Getting an education? That's another story”, was published Nov. 1.
Accused of “boosting metrics” to make the “Reinvention” of City Colleges seem successful, Chancellor Juan Salgado fired back at what he called “an unfortunate report” that “goes too far.”
“A report like this can undermine the hard work of City Colleges faculty, staff and students,” Salgado wrote in an email to students and staff.
City Colleges of Chicago claims that its policies for graduation requirements and retroactive degrees have always been within the limits of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). Any relaxing of degree requirements in the past was a result of legally reflecting statewide policies, the school claimed.
Instead of attacking the validity of the article’s facts, Salgado and CCC responded to the tone of the article. The report is “disregarding the real impact of the multitude of reforms that City Colleges put into place,” Salgado wrote.
Conferring degrees to everyone who was eligible, even retroactively, was in line with a national trend to “award credit when credit is due,” the college wrote in response to BGA’s questions.
“Rather than leaving CCC with no degree, students have an associates degree under their belt that they rightfully earned and which they” can earn more at a job, CCC wrote.
Several instructors at Harold Washington offered their opinions of the article, with some brushing aside its claims.
“People are going to just believe what they hear [and] jump on the bandwagon,” English professor Donyel Williams said about the article. “Me, personally, I don’t feel threatened or challenged.”
Other professors, who asked not to be named, said the issue rested with the administration and not faculty.
One instructor was unsure if the article’s info was true, but said the narrative fit into CCC’s history of questionable policies.
Faculty Council blamed the administration for bending the rules to manufacture graduation rates.
The problem of cooking the numbers goes back to the previous administration under Cheryl Hyman’s command, Faculty Council President Jennifer Alexander said.
“Faculty have long known that the last administration manipulated the data,” Alexander said in response to the article. “It had little to do with helping students and more to do with driving their agenda.”
That agenda was to give the impression of the success of Reinvention, Alexander wrote in a Faculty Council letter to the Chancellor and Provost, dated Nov. 10.
To the defenders of the school who claim nothing illegal happened, Alexander points to the lawsuit on behalf of the Better Government Association for detailed CCC degree records that the school refused to release.
“What is legal and what is right are not always the same thing,” Alexander said. “Why do we have to file a lawsuit for the information if it’s all fine?”
Teachers Union President Tony Johnston sent an open letter to Salgado Nov. 13 blasting him for brushing aside the concerns of the report. Johnston compared Salgado to Trump in the way he dismissed the news.
“Our democracy is thus deeply threatened by such dismissals of serious journalism, and we hope you will not engage in this kind of dismissiveness,” Johnston wrote.
The Union letter copied the Faculty Council’s response and added a call for transparency.
“We want to see real, systemic change on behalf of City College students and the communities our colleges serve,” Johnston wrote. “This can only begin, however, with serious consideration, in an open meeting, of the charges and claims made by BGA.”
But the college has its own supporters who see the push for degrees as more good than bad.
City Colleges “is operating within [ICCB’s] standards,” ICCB Executive Director Karen Hunter Anderson wrote in a Crain’s op-ed responding to the BGA report.
She defended CCC for helping Illinois strive for its goal of having 60 percent of adults hold a postsecondary degree by 2025. Since degrees have economic value for students, CCC ought to use degree audits and reverse transfer policies to expand those degree conferrals, she wrote.
City Colleges has pushed back on BGA’s critical story and has sent multiple emails to faculty and students, asking for them to write Crain’s to “share the City Colleges student successes” and to post to social media with the hashtag “#cccsuccess”.