Shandra Outlaw started working at Kennedy-King College on the South Side in 2012. Robust enrollment and broad opportunities marked a healthy school in the City Colleges of Chicago system.
Less than a decade later, Outlaw — a tutor at Kennedy-King and professor at the school’s satellite Dawson Technical Institute — said she fears the school is nearing a breaking point where they won’t have enough students to stay open.
“Those students are me,” said Outlaw, who went to Harold Washington College — a City College campus — after flunking out at Western Illinois University. “The campus is so vital to the community. If campus goes away, I’m just trying to figure out where the young people will go.”
City Colleges faculty, students and union representatives rallied Thursday afternoon at Kennedy-King against years-old program cuts they say have slashed enrollment numbers year after year, especially in schools primarily serving Black, Brown and immigrant students. The rally comes amid City College’s budget discussions. Chief among the group’s complaints were consolidating nursing programs and moving the dental hygiene program to Malcolm X College on the Near West Side.
Katheryn Hayes, City Colleges spokeswoman, said in an email these program cuts and consolidations took place four to 10 years ago under a past administration. City Colleges is “actively” addressing enrollment declines, including adding technology programs at Kennedy-King, Hayes said
“Under Chancellor [Juan] Salgado’s leadership, City Colleges is deeply committed to the success of Chicago students, including the Black and Latinx students who comprise more than 75 percent of City Colleges’ student population,” Hayes said.
Outlaw proposed a rally because “it just doesn’t seem like anybody’s doing anything,” the Roseland resident said. Rather than having myriad options at local community colleges, some programs are only offered at select campuses, causing students to make a choice between long commutes or different career paths, she said. Many of Outlaw’s students are housing-insecure or single parents, so long commutes aren’t feasible, she said.
The loss of these programs “flies in the face of what a community college is supposed to be,” said Randy Miller, president of the City Colleges Contingent Labor Organizing Committee, a union representing the schools’ part-time faculty and staff.
“The location of the City Colleges is an opportunity for students to be taking courses and earning degrees at their local colleges with the support of their family and their communities,” Miller said. “Bring community back to the community colleges.”