Quick Hit Michael Joyce Tuesday March 29th, 2016, 7:39pm

Chicago City Colleges Students, Educators Blast System Over Consolidations, Tuition Hikes

There was palpable anger in the standing-room only audience as the Alliance of City College Unions hosted a town hall meeting Monday night to discuss a number of issues, including tuition raises and program consolidations.

Following February's no-confidence vote for City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, faculty members say they have been let down by the administration, save a select few.

Loretta Ragsdell, president of the city colleges' part-time faculty union, thanked all the politicians who have advocated on behalf of faculty.

"We have a lot of friends in politics," said Ragsdell. "Not Rauner, and certainly not Rahm."

Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union Jesse Sharkey told attendees that city colleges should bridge the educational gap for low-income students, saying the institutions "unlock the potential for students who aren't wealthy."

"The horizon should be the limit for all students," said Sharkey. "Whether you're a working class kid from the South Side or the well-off child of a dentist from the Northwest Side."

Sharkey also said that the City Colleges of Chicago system provides more than just an education. The schools impart an appreciation for the arts and literature to which many students may not otherwise have access.

One of the main issues for students and staff alike is the ongoing consolidation and relocation of programs throughout the system.

While these measures have been presented as a way to deliver the same service for less, Sharkey said it's actually making it difficult for students to access the courses they want and, as a result, is pushing them towards more costly private education.

"It's a way to cut services and drive students into private universities, which are happy to take your tuition, happy to saddle students with debt, and it's part of the privatization of the public trust," he noted.

Many benefits of the City Colleges of Chicago were exemplified in Victor Guzman, a student at Harold Washington College.

Guzman, a Mexican immigrant, said his mother discouraged him from pursuing higher education, as she felt it was only for people with a lot of money.

Guzman explained that his mother didn't have the opportunity to complete elementary school, and he wanted to break the cycle and attain a college education. He has taken several English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and went on to take English 101.

"It was four years ago that my mom told me higher education wasn't for me," said Guzman. "Right now, I feel very proud I can help my mom to understand the things she doesn't understand."

Guzman said last semester the students at Harold Washington College began organizing to push back against rising tuition costs and issues with financial aid disbursement.

During the public comment period, Richard J. Daley College student Charnelle Logan explained how program consolidations are negatively impacting her educational pursuits.

"Living on the South Side of Chicago you're not always given the most opportunity," Logan said. "By taking away programs, you're limiting opportunities that we need now more than ever."

Logan elicited widespread applause when she said viewing the South Side solely as a manufacturing hub is discriminatory and racist.

The final speaker of the night was Daley College Faculty Council President Jennifer Alexander.

She teaches classes in the child development program, which is in the process of being consolidated and removed from five city college locations.

Alexander said no financial or practical reason was given for the changes. She warned that limiting access to courses in the city colleges system could have an adverse affect on communities as a whole -- and may incite students to seek out better opportunities elsewhere.

"Our mission is simple: Keep the community in our community colleges," said Alexander.

Aricka Flowers contributed to this story.

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