On Thursday, March 23, 2017, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois to testify in front of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee. I spoke about how the budget impasse is negatively impacting Parkland students, faculty, and staff. I asked for the committee and the legislature to pass a budget and re-invest in higher education in the state of Illinois. My prepared statement is below.

How did committee members respond? See below.

House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee
Public Hearing on FY 18 Higher Education Budget, CSU, ICCB
March 23, 2017   |   8:00AM   |   Room D-1 Stratton Building
Testimony Regarding House Bill HB 103 and HB3928

Good morning, my name is Rochelle Harden. I am an associate professor of Developmental English at Parkland College the local community college in Champaign, Illinois.

I want to thank Chairperson Kelly M. Burke, Vice-Chairperson Cynthia Soto, Republican Spokesperson Dan Brady, and fellow members of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about House Bill 103 and House Bill 3928, two bills which I believe will benefit students and impact students’ success in Illinois’ system of higher education.

House Bill 103 calls for the funding of public institutions of higher education including community colleges and awards MAP grants that were promised to students.

House Bill 3928 calls for the funding of Illinois community colleges through the Illinois Community College Board.

The lack of a state budget and the lack of financial support to higher education and community colleges, specifically, is destroying access to higher education.

The land of Lincoln is no longer the land of opportunity.

I teach developmental education classes at Parkland. Sometimes it is referred to as remedial education, but remedial education assume students simply are missing parts of their education and once given the missing part, the students will be ready for college-level classes. Developmental education models depend on student development theories and pedagogy that focuses on adult learners. A better understanding of the students I teach explains why developmental theories work better.

My students overwhelmingly have a variety of learning disabilities; overwhelmingly qualify for financial aid grants; overwhelmingly take out student loans to supplement their travel, housing, and food expenses while in college; and overwhelmingly they must work at least part-time to support themselves financially.

Fewer and fewer of my students are straight out of high school. The average age for my students is 25. Many of my students are parents with school-aged children. And a larger portion of my students are African American and Latino when compared to the rest of the college.

Without significant emotional and financial support and personal resilience, my students often get bogged down in the terrifying juggle of college and life.

The students who most need a college education are watching their opportunities for a better life through education disappear. When tuition costs rise because the state is not funding higher education, my students have to take out more loans or work more hours at their part time job. The more hours they work, the less time they have to study for classes. The less time they devote to studying, the less likely they will be successful, the less likely they will progress through their classes, the less likely they will earn a degree or certificate, and the less likely their investment in their education at the expense of their future career earnings will pay off in the long run.

The state budget impasse has impacted these students in the most profound way. By not supporting higher education, we are telling my students that college is not important. Education is not important. Community colleges and universities around the state are laying off faculty. In the case of Parkland College, we are laying off dedicated, talented faculty because their contracts were the most vulnerable, not because they were not working their hardest to educate our students. Colleagues and coworkers have left the state for better opportunities because they got the message that higher education in Illinois is a bad investment for their family, their future, and their career. Dynamic and wise leaders and faculty are being pushed out by early retirement incentives. Programs like Adult Education have been cancelled indefinitely. Art programs and theatre programs have been significantly reduced. Student services that my students rely on such as disability services have been cut to the bone.

Because we are not supporting higher education, the students with the money, means, and opportunity, are leaving the state. Committed faculty and administrators are leaving the state for better opportunities and taking their talent and tax dollars with them.

Without state funding, equal access to higher education becomes a myth and open door policies become an act of fraud. When the amount of money students have decides whether or not they can attend and graduate college what results is a gentrification of higher education, pricing poor students out of the market.

While I agree that college is not for everyone, for poor and working class students, it is the only path to some degree of employment stability and a livable wage.

I believe in the power of education, and I believe in the community college mission. For the past 13 years I have dedicated my professional life to teaching developmental students, despite being qualified to teach higher levels. I chose to teach developmental students. I chose to teach at a community college because I saw a proud tradition in the state of Illinois that once championed the community college movement and made great efforts to set up public colleges throughout the state, ensuring access for all residents. However, due to the lack of state funding, we are witnessing the destruction of higher education in Illinois. We are witnessing the demise of one of our greatest assets.

I beg of you, members of the House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee, senators and representatives from around the state, the entire 100th General Assembly, and Governor Rauner, please, please fund higher education in the state of Illinois. Please, pass House Bill 103 and House Bill 3928. Please, support developmental students, community colleges, and all the public colleges and universities in the state of Illinois.

Thank you.

Rochelle Harden

How did committee members respond? 

Several representatives had encouraging message for me and my students.