The incoming chancellor, Juan Salgado, has accepted a tough job.
On May 1, when he officially replaces Chancellor Hyman, he will lead seven city colleges plagued by falling enrollment, a state budget impasse, spending freezes and program cuts, a faculty unhappy with their treatment, and a diverse student body with different goals.
To do his job right, Salgado ought to take a moment to consider a philosophical question: Who are we and what is our purpose?
The key to running this school is to understand this deceptively simple question. City Colleges is a unique and diverse school, and approaching us like a trade school, or even like a suburban community college, is the wrong way to do it. Understand who we are first, and where we come from, and the rest follows.
Chancellor Hyman spent her seven years here trying to redefine the answer to “who are we and what’s our purpose?” She changed City Colleges’ mission from being the most affordable, accessible, and quality education in Chicago into something else. She prioritized graduation rates and job placement, altered the tuition structure to benefit full-time students and penalize part-time students. She attempted to consolidate programs into single campuses. And she did all of this while ignoring input from faculty and students.
Hyman redirected the city colleges to fit her own mission of raising the graduation rate. This goals was fine by itself, but she pursued it at the expense of the majority of students, who are non-traditional, returning, and part-time students.
Only about five percent of the city colleges’ enrollment are students who make up the pool in the graduation rate statistic, which is defined as the percent of first-time, full-time students, who graduate within three years of starting school, according to the federal agency IPEDS. Of the 100,000 total students in the City Colleges, only about 5,000 are first-time, full-time students. So City Colleges’ graduation rate is 17 percent of the 5,000, not the 100,000. The graduation rate considers the success of a small group of the school.
Hyman’s tunnel-vision with regard to that one statistic led her to an inevitable conclusion: make graduation easier for those 5,000 students. The problem was that she penalized the non-traditional students who weren’t part of the special 5,000 first-timers.
The tuition changes of 2015 incentivized students to take full course loads by charging more per credit hour for the part-time students. The changes benefited the full-time students who make up the graduation statistic. The problem was that most students at City Colleges can’t take classes full-time, no matter how many incentives there are for it. The incentive is well-meaning, but it ignores the reality that most of the students are part-time for a reason.
Consolidation was another attempt to treat the city colleges as a traditional school in a traditional town. Moving programs to single campuses may work in a smaller city where everyone drives, but in Chicago, where many people rely on public transportation, consolidating programs into a single neighborhood is an act of discrimination. In a city as large as Chicago, location determines the accessibility of education to many. Once again, Hyman penalized students who didn’t fit the mold.
The last and least understandable change of Hyman was to close off registration one full week before classes start. What other purpose could this serve than to limit the college’s accessibility? Perhaps the administrators knew that students who signed up last minute were statistically more likely to drop out and ruin their graduation rate? Either way, Hyman implemented the policy in 2015 without input from staff or students. The effect was a policy that limited college accessibility without a clear benefit for students.
Faculty were furious at Hyman’s policy changes and took a vote of no-confidence in her over a year ago. Much of what angered faculty was Hyman’s dictatorial style—implementing changes first and, even then, not asking questions. But the truly dangerous aspect of her time here was the redirection of City Colleges’ guiding philosophy: Who are we and what’s our purpose?
To Hyman, students were potential numbers in the graduation rate. She treated city colleges as if all students were first-time, full-time students who could finish their degree within three years. She ignored a reality about the college’s basic identity.
Incoming chancellor Salgado finds our school at a crossroads. Is our goal to improve a graduation rate that considers only five percent of the total student body? Or are we responsible for providing accessible education for everyone from every background?
The dictatorial style of Chancellor Hyman was closed-minded and probably violated the rules of City Colleges’ accreditor, which demands that a college’s administration work with and listen to its faculty. Hyman’s obsession with the graduation rate was detrimental to the majority of the student body who depended on affordable classes they could take part time.
Salgado could benefit from considering the expertise of our faculty which has openly expressed its concern for City Colleges’ mission. He should consider who our students are and where they are coming from. Graduating more first-time students is a fine goal, but be aware that most students are not on that pathway, and that accessibility and affordability have great importance for the majority of the student body.
If Salgado wants to lead this school well, he ought to understand the nuances of a college as large and diverse as our own. We are not a set of statistics to be touted at press events; we are people and we deserve to be treated as such.