City Colleges and Location Consolidation: Kennedy-King Students Speak Out

Jonathan Talley and Lavada Kimble at Kennedy-King College’s spring commencement exercises in May. (Photo by Kenyon Douglass/ Courtesy of Jonathan Talley)
Jonathan Talley and Lavada Kimble at Kennedy-King College’s spring commencement exercises in May. (Photo by Kenyon Douglass/ Courtesy of Jonathan Talley)

Jonathan Talley, a recent graduate of Kennedy-King College and former president of the Student Government Association, said that his education at Kennedy-King marked his second attempt at college and the coursework and professors at Kennedy-King prepared him for the next stages of his academic career.

Talley received his associate’s degree in Applied Sciences with an emphasis in political science and plans to transfer to Roosevelt University. He eventually wants to pursue law school to become a lawyer.

Despite this success story and many more like it, City Colleges is consolidating programs at Kennedy-King College, in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. But the school now specializes in culinary arts and hospitality. Dental hygiene and nursing have already been cut there and are now being offered at Malcolm-X College, located on Chicago’s West Side.

“I do feel like they’re marginalizing students on the South Side to just be cooks. That’s not what everybody wants to do. It almost feels like segregation in a way. You’re saying we can only do these types of jobs and that’s not true at all,” Talley said.

But for him and others, the big question is why students on the South Side are forced to commute long distances to pursue classes in other professions that Kennedy-King offered before City Colleges decided to officially consolidate programs in 2014.

During the fall of 2015, several student government association members from all seven of the City Colleges of Chicago were invited to a luncheon with Chancellor Cheryl Hyman at district offices to discuss the closure and movement of academic programs at some schools.

“We had a meeting with the chancellor. We voiced our opinion. Long story short, the chancellor said it still stands,” said Talley. “Other SGAs were not for the consolidation. We all stood on one united front saying we don’t think classes should be moved from any community college to make one college a specialization for one career. We voiced that.”

The City Colleges’ plans have sparked controversy because of fears that students, especially minority students, are losing access to academic programs in their communities and also have long commute times to new campuses.

Students on the South Side are impacted more by the consolidation of programs due to the long commute times via public transportation to schools on the North Side.

For example, a Kennedy-King student wanting to take information technology classes at Wilbur-Wright College, on the Northwest Side, would have to take a train and two buses with a travel time of nearly two hours.

Representatives said that the consolidation is a strategic decision to keep City Colleges operating efficiently, avoid layoff and budget cuts, and keep it as the lowest cost option for Chicago residents.

“Since the launch of our Reinvention, City Colleges’ strategic reforms have yielded a more than doubled graduation rate, have led to the highest number of degrees awarded in City Colleges’ history, and have generated $70 million in savings that have been reinvested in the classroom,” an email statement from spokeswoman Angela Wells O’Connor said. “To ensure students are prepared to seize the 600,000 jobs coming to our region in high-demand fields over the next decade, City Colleges has designated each of its seven colleges as a College to Careers center for excellence. The College to Careers model allows us to concentrate talent, partner relationships and capital investments, offering our students a high-quality educational experience at an unprecedented value to taxpayers.”

The statement also said that this system mirrors what City Colleges students will face when seeking employment.

“When our students go out in the world seeking jobs, employers will not move the jobs to them, they will need to go to where the jobs are,” the statement said. ” Our center for excellence model exposes our students to the parts of the city outside of their neighborhood and is a reflection of the reality that our students may have to travel across the city to secure a desired employment opportunity.”

City Colleges of Chicago Location By Race Interactive Map

To address the transportation challenge, City Colleges of Chicago created a free City Colleges shuttle that helps boost linkages between the different colleges and CTA rail lines, according to an email statement from Katheryn Hayes, a City Colleges spokeswoman.

Kennedy-King College was originally named Woodrow Wilson Junior College in 1935 and was renamed in 1969 in honor of the late president John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King in 1969, a year after both were assassinated.

The consolidation of programs are part of the City Colleges’ “reinvention initiative,” which aims to improve academic offerings and better prepare students to secure jobs or transfer to four-year institutions, according to a press release from City Colleges.

An emblem displaying portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy are part of Kennedy-King’s school entry monument. (Photo by Branden Hampton/MEDILL)
An emblem displaying portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy are part of Kennedy-King’s school entry monument. (Photo by Branden Hampton/MEDILL)

Henry Miller, a recent Kennedy-King graduate and former vice president of Kennedy-King’s SGA, said that it seems like City Colleges are taking away careers that deal with four-year colleges like writing, journalism and business and leaving the associate level degree jobs at Kennedy-King. Other City Colleges on the South Side affected by the consolidation of programs include Daley College, focusing on manufacturing, and Olive-Harvey College, focusing on transportation and related fields.

“I honestly don’t think it’s fair. I’m against the whole reinvention program. I think since it’s a whole system for City Colleges that they should all be on one accord rather than saying, ‘You can’t do this here and you can only do that here.’ That’s not really fair for the students,” Miller said.

Miller graduated from Kennedy-King along with Talley in May 2016 and received an associate’s degree with an emphasis in accounting. He said that he’s been accepted to the University of Illinois at Chicago and also looking at Roosevelt University to complete his undergraduate studies as an accounting major.

Henry Miller promotes the Kennedy-King College Student Government Association. (Photo by Jonathan Talley/Courtesy of Henry Miller)
Henry Miller promotes the Kennedy-King College Student Government Association. (Photo by Jonathan Talley/Courtesy of Henry Miller)

Lack of Communication with Teachers and Students

What’s the biggest obstacle facing students at Kennedy-King College? In Talley’s opinion, the biggest obstacle is registering for the correct classes students need to transfer to a four-year college.

“What I found out was that when I transfer to Roosevelt, some of the classes that we have to take are freshman classes that we should’ve been taking at Kennedy-King. Now we have to go into Roosevelt and double back to play catch up to what we actually are supposed to be,” Talley said.

Talley mentioned that his fiancé is also transferring to Roosevelt and the two biology classes she is taking at Kennedy-King aren’t compatible with the biology classes needed at Roosevelt.

“A lot of students face that problem because Kennedy-King doesn’t offer a lot of the classes that you need for your prerequisites or you need for your general education,” Talley said. “If a lot of students could come into a four-year university and be at a legitimate junior status, then I think that would help a lot of students.”

Teachers and students at City Colleges have been complaining at past board meetings about the ability to collaborate with college advisors to advise students and also transparent communication with faculty and staff when it comes to major academic decisions affecting both students and teachers.

Teachers Make A Difference

Talley said that his dream is to become a judge and his professor at Kennedy-King inspired him to pursue a legal career.

My professor Ted Williams made a profound statement to me one day. He said the political process really affects everybody whether you like it or not. You get up and brush your teeth with toothpaste. Somebody has to regulate the toothpaste to say it’s okay to use. Somebody has to regulate all food,” Talley said.

“When I took his class it really made me look at things differently.” Ted Williams III is chairman of the social science department at Kennedy-King and has been teaching there for 12 years. Williams cited positive and negative aspects of the City Colleges’ reinvention initiative.

“There have been good things about reinvention in terms of the focus on graduation and college to careers. They definitely made some traction in the area of connecting students with real job skills. The problem is that much of education in America now is leaning toward the corporate model,” Williams said.

In the future at Kennedy-King and other community colleges in Chicago, Talley said that he wants to see “more community involvement and more sensitivity toward students such as keeping classes at the school and making courses accessible.”

You shouldn’t have to go to Malcolm X because you want to take nursing classes. You should be able to take all classes at any City College and be able to transfer to a four-year university and have no problems,” Talley said.

Miller said, “It’s a tremendous mistake and it’s going to really disadvantage students. It’s going to really drop enrollment. Already Kennedy-King has a lowered enrollment and [the reinvention initiative] is going to drop it some more.”

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