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Legislator proposes free year at community college
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff

Democratic state Rep. Michael Boland


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Published: 7/29/2009 12:00 AM

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A 'C' average plus a clean rap sheet plus a high school diploma could equal a free year at community college in Illinois.

That's what Democratic state Rep. Mike Boland is proposing.

Boland, chairman of the House's Higher Education Committee, held a round-table discussion Tuesday afternoon with Elgin Community College officials about his proposed legislation, dubbed the Illinois Challenge Scholarship.

Boland, of East Moline, said he's visited 15 other community colleges around the state in recent weeks, including Harper College in Palatine, Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and Kishwaukee College near DeKalb, looking for help in tweaking the idea as he prepares his final draft of the legislation.

The Challenge Scholarship, he said, would require eighth-grade students and a parent or guardian to sign a pledge to maintain a 'C' average throughout high school and to avoid arrest or suspension from school for drugs, alcohol or violent behavior.

The academic bar is set relatively low for a reason - to appeal to students that don't currently see college as a priority.

Upon graduation, students who kept their pledge would get a year of free tuition at a community college, or the equivalent of that dollar amount to apply toward tuition at a four-year school of their choice.

How to pay for it? Boland said he's collected a number of suggestions in recent months, including imposing $100 court fees; specialty license plates which would support the scholarships; and donations from individuals and foundations.

One place he won't be looking for money, he said, is the state budget.

"I don't want to depend on the legislature to pay for this," he said. "The last thing I want are kids to become disillusioned after they've worked for something that can't be funded."

Another advantage of having eighth-graders sign a pledge, he said, would be a four-year buildup of funds before the program kicked off.

Boland hopes to have a final draft of the proposal by January. with the aim of moving the bill through the legislature as soon as possible.

He was joined Tuesday by ECC President David Sam, dean of adult education Peggy Heinrich, director of financial aid Amy Perrin and vice president of business and finance Sharon Konney

Heinrich asked Boland if there would be income guidelines to the Scholarship. "I was hesitant of that at first, but we may have to do it anyway to make sure funding is secure," Boland said.

Among the ideas floated Tuesday, Sam suggested that the 'C' average should come from a college prep curriculum - for instance, requiring four years of English, at least three years of math, science, and social studies, and two years of a foreign language.

"The advantage of this (legislation) is introducing the concept of college to students and their families at a very early age," Sam said.