Illinois has a major shortage of teachers, especially for young children.
That's exactly what the Public Community College Act (SB 1832) hopes to change.
“These individuals can be on a path to meet their educational goals, as well as economic stability and be able to support the nurturing development of young children,” Chief Sponsor Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, said.
Pacione-Zayas spoke alongside other legislators and early childhood educators at a press conference on Wednesday, April 7. She says the state does not have enough early childhood or special education teachers.
The Illinois State Board of Education reports a current shortage of over 1,700 teaching positions statewide.
The proposed bill would allow community colleges “to establish and offer a baccalaureate-level early childhood education program and confer a bachelor of applied science degree in early childhood education and a professional educator license with endorsements in early childhood education and early childhood special education under certain conditions.”
Higher education systems like the City Colleges of Chicago say the legislation would help to decrease the financial burden that often comes with traditional four-year programs.
"As a community college leader, we're delighted to be a part of this process. We think and know we have a lot to bring to the table,” said City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado. "This gives us a chance to do what we do best, which is create access and upward mobility, to respond to urgent workforce needs."
Sponsoring senators also acknowledged that opponents may see the bill as a way for people to obtain teaching degrees in a less accredited way.
"No this is not going to be watered down,” Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, said. “It will be the same standard. They will get the same quality education."
Community colleges would have to apply to host a four-year (or equivalent) bachelor's program on their campus. They must also prove that they have the resources and student interest to do so, and pass a curriculum review with the State Board of Higher Education.
In a text, Illinois Action for Children, a proponent of the bill, clarified that the new bachelor's programs would not necessarily be the traditional four years:
“Community colleges would design the bachelor's of applied science degree programs, emphasizing applied coursework and applied learning. Colleges will continue offering associate's degree-level programs, and build the bachelor's pathway for students to be able to continue on to their degree. Ultimately, these programs will be serving students who are working and going to school part-time so they will be crafted to meet the needs of a busy professional. A 4-year timeframe may or may not be appropriate, and online, in-person and hybrid options could be utilized to meet student need. The goal is to build these programs to support students to complete their degrees as seamlessly and quickly as possible. Additionally, the program will meet all requirements from the various state boards and the regional accreditor.”
Right now, 23 states already allow community colleges to offer bachelor's programs.
The Public Community College Act is currently assigned to the Senate Higher Education Committee. It must first pass through there before heading to the Senate floor for a vote.