City Colleges of Chicago is drastically reshaping its struggling Adult Education program.
Starting this fall semester, nearly all of the program’s courses will meet for 96 hours a semester — a significant decrease in instructional hours for the thousands of students enrolled in the program’s English as a Second Language classes.
Administrators argue the change is aimed at providing students with more relevant material in a shorter amount of time.
“We’re looking to provide access to quality, not quantity,” said Maureen Fitzpatrick, associate vice chancellor of adult education.
But many educators aren’t buying it.
“That’s a ridiculous argument. Logically it doesn’t make sense. Struggling students won’t benefit from receiving less classroom instruction,” said George Roumbanis, an ESL instructor and president of AFSCME 3506, a union representing City Colleges adult education staff.
The adult education program at the City Colleges offers ESL and secondary education, and high school equivalency courses. The program also offers vocational classes. All are tuition-free and funded by state and federal grants.
Last fall, nearly 25,000 students enrolled in the program, most of whom are working while going to school. But 42% of them dropped out of their courses before the midterm, according to data provided by the City Colleges.
College officials responded by transitioning almost all of the program’s courses to meet for 96 hours a semester — a significant difference considering that, in fall 2018, 97% of secondary education and high school equivalency courses met for fewer than 80 hours a semester and half of ESL courses met for 93 hours or more.
Overall instructional time across the program will drop by 3% compared to fall 2018. But Roumbanis, who’s taught ESL courses at Richard J. Daley College for 20 years, argues the change will hurt many students and instructors.
He says his course that met four days a week from 6 to 9:30 p.m. for 16 weeks will now meet four days a week from 6 to 9 p.m. for only eight weeks.
“And I still need to cover the same material,” he said. “Anybody can speed talk and give out double the homework, but what do you think the reaction of many of our students will be? Many of them are gonna walk away, or they’re going to fail and repeat the level.”
Meanwhile, Roumbanis said his Saturday class that met four hours a week will now meet six hours weekly.
“I don’t know how many of my students will show up,” he said. “If I have less than 10 students enrolled, they will close my class.”
If all goes according to plan, Roumbanis expects to teach 2 hours less a week compared to the spring 2019 semester. At that rate, he’ll see a pay cut of $3,500 a year.
Fitzpatrick argues the changes are needed to revamp adult education at the City Colleges. In September 2018, the program was put on probation by the Illinois Community College Board because students were dropping out and not enough of them were successfully transferring to college.
Standardizing the adult education program, she said, “will help us make sure we have clear and attainable educational levels for all of our students” and will allow the City Colleges to “provide a clear core structure” so that “students can move forward.”
Moreover, Fitzpatrick said instructors were offered professional-development trainings to prepare for their new courses.
But Roumbanis said staff were only given six hours of training.
“I don’t know how we’re supposed to prepare for an entire new system with just six hours of P.D.,” he said.
In a statement, the City Colleges admitted the trainings “totaled 6 hours” and that “deans are planning additional professional-development sessions, meetings regarding pacing, and feedback sessions on the curriculum for the fall.”