Student group tackles City Colleges budget

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • June 24, 2009 @ 1:30 PM

Making sense of the 380-page budget the City Colleges of Chicago publishes each year is no easy task -- but that’s exactly what a youth leadership group has set out do to this summer.

It’s one of several projects the students in Public Action for Change Today are tackling. One its organizers hopes the work will lead to recommendations about how the district can include students in the budget-making process.

 “The general sentiment is that students just aren’t engaged in that process at all,” says Amy Totsch, who helps organize PACT. “Maybe if they happen to the be president of a club or the student government, they might be involved in that level.”

“One of our recommendations could very well be, how can students be a better partner in getting the funding for colleges to provide a better education,” Totsch adds.

City Colleges spokeswoman Elsa Tullos, who was heading to an internal budget meeting today, could not immediately say whether or not students like those in PACT would be involved. The internal budget meeting was not open to the public, and a draft version of the district budget has not yet been revealed.

PACT has just started its research, gathering information on current budgets for each of the seven colleges and for the districts as a whole.

The idea started with Hassan Flowers, a 20-year-old student at Harold Washington College who’s a self-described sports junkie and tennis shoe addict – but who is also cautious about spending money.

He noticed that each semester, he had to pay Harold Washington an activity fee, but couldn’t figure out where or how that money was being spent.

Then the district took away some of his financial aid, he says, because his total household income of $30,000for four people was too high.

Finding out how activity fees got used and how financial aid decisions are made are two things he hopes to learn.

“Not only that, but to gain an understanding of where the money goes, where and how the money flows at these institutions,” Flowers says. “Because there’s a lot of it that’s unaccounted for.”

Long-term, the project isn’t just about untangling the district’s budget and figuring out how fees get spent, Totsch and Flowers say. It’s also about getting students more involved in how their schools operate.

“It’s a commuter school and people just come for what they need to get and then leave,” Flowers says. “But I know there’s people who are interested in (being more involved).”

Totsch wasn’t surprised to hear that no students turned out when the City Colleges voted without proper notice to raise tuition in December, then voted again on the tuition increase in February.

“That’s a great example of knowing those things and having student leaders who are interested in this and then being able to organize in their own schools,” she says. “That’s just not there right now.”


Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.