Harper College's controversial five-year quest to offer bachelor's degrees has ended - for now, at least.
Northern Illinois University will instead offer a bachelor's of science in applied management with an emphasis in public safety on Harper's Palatine campus beginning next summer.
The partnership, announced Monday at a news conference at a fire station in Hoffman Estates featuring dozens of legislators, public safety chiefs and school representatives, came after both schoole engaged in years of political maneuvering and countless lobbying trips to Springfield.
"Progress like this does not happen overnight," NIU President John Peters said. "It took a long time for us to get there. We're there now. It's historic in that sense."
NIU's degree will serve as a template that can be tailored to the 26 community colleges in the university's service region, he said. "We've taken a regional approach to solve a regional problem," Peters said.
Oakton Community College, for one, is on the verge of signing an agreement that would bring NIU's applied management degree in public safety to its Des Plaines campus. And its president said her school played a key role in the development of the plan and she was miffed at not being invited to the news conference.
NIU's applied management degree, which was accredited by the Illinois Board of Higher Education in August, initially will have two areas of emphasis: public safety management and computer information systems. Additional specialized areas are in the works.
Harper originally pushed for legislation that would allow the Palatine school to offer on a pilot basis its own bachelor's of applied science degrees in public safety administration/homeland security and in technology management.
In Springfield, the bill twice passed in the House but never came up for a Senate vote because NIU stepped forward to offer the programs. In 2008, however, negotiations didn't progress past a few letters between Peters and former Harper President Robert Breuder, who's now at College of DuPage. The main point of contention was Harper's demand that at least 90 percent of classes be held face-to-face. NIU argued that would be too expensive and pushed for more online and teleconferencing classes.
This time around, NIU dropped the online demand and negotiations were swift. According to Sam Giordano, program coordinator of Harper's fire science technology program, only two meetings were needed between faculty and administrators at both schools to agree upon a program format.
The end result, said Harper President Kenneth Ender, will help serve the police, fire and emergency personnel who need a four-year degree to advance in their fields. The Palatine Police Department, for example, requires a bachelor's degree.
"It's not a compromise at all," said Ender, who took over at Harper in July. "I think it's a better degree than what we could have proposed on our own. We don't add any additional public dollars to our budget or to (NIU's)."
Ender wouldn't rule out a future push by Harper to offer its own bachelor's degree should another unmet work-force need arise.
The program will be offered at Harper's tuition rates for the first three years, and at NIU rates for the final year. Harper professors may teach some of the NIU courses, but only if the teachers meet NIU's certification requirements.
Agreeing on a format was a much simpler task this time for several reasons, Harper spokesman Phil Burdick said. For one, sponsors believed they had enough votes to win Senate approval for Harper's pilot programs this fall if they could get the legislation to a floor vote. And Senate President John Cullerton had promised to step in should negotiations stall.
Burdick also credits former Harper President Breuder for laying the groundwork and new President Ender for reaching out to Peters so quickly after taking over in June.
"People realized we can't keep fighting over this," Burdick said. "The bottom line was that access to affordable four-year degrees had to be increased."
Breuder couldn't be reached Monday, but College of DuPage is not pursuing any four-year degree programs at its Glen Ellyn campus, according to Joe Moore, COD's associate vice president for external communications. Moore said COD remains the top "community college feeder" to NIU.
During the news conference, Peters acknowledged Oakton Community College was "real instrumental in the beginning to get our thinking focused on this."
Oakton President Margaret Lee, who doesn't favor community colleges offering four-year degrees, said she contacted Peters about a public safety degree partnership at Oakton following a Daily Herald article in October 2008 outlining the stalemate between Harper and NIU. She said the schools worked together to develop a program, down to class space and rates to rent the rooms. The contract is awaiting her signature.
"Had we not stepped up to the plate, there may not have been a deal. We were the drivers of a solution that would be announced as a Harper victory," Lee said. "I applaud the project but it's been disrespectful to shut us out. I think Oakton should be acknowledged as an equal partner, not second fiddle."
• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed.