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The City of Evanston and Oakton Community College are discussing the possibility of building an Oakton satellite campus in Evanston. In order to ensure the satellite would meet all the needs of Evanston residents, representatives from Oakton have spoken with members of the community as well as to administrators at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), with which they have a longstanding partnership.
Oakton, which has campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, is not easily accessible for Evanston residents due to its distance from the City. ETHS administrators and City officials said they endorse the idea of bringing an Oakton satellite to Evanston.
City Manager Committed to an OCC Satellite
“As long as I work for the City of Evanston, I will continue to work to get an Oakton Community College campus in Evanston, no matter where it [is located], because I feel strongly about the benefit that it can provide to our residents,” said City Manager Erika Storlie in an interview with the RoundTable. “This is always at the top of my list.”
Evanston residents pay the largest portion of Oakton’s taxes, despite sending fewer students there than other nearby suburbs, said Ms. Storlie. “Evanston residents pay for Oakton Community College through the taxes,” she said, “but they don’t reap the benefit because it’s too far away for our students to go there.”
The City of Evanston and Oakton are still in the early stages of discussing the potential satellite and no location has been chosen yet. Still, these discussions, which the City of Evanston has been having for years, are beginning to gain traction, as they are occurring more frequently, said ETHS Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell.
OCC Trustees See a Mutual Benefit
The college is not rushing this process just to have a satellite in Evanston, said Marie Lynn Toussaint, Vice President of the Oakton Community College Board of Trustees. “We’re taking our time to make sure that it’s benefiting the community that we are trying to serve.”
Both Oakton and the City of Evanston would benefit greatly from a satellite campus, said Ms. Toussaint. Oakton’s population would grow, allowing for a more collaborative relationship between campuses, and Evanston residents would gain access to valuable resources, including an accessible and inexpensive college education.
Bringing a satellite to Evanston could be made possible with a relocated Civic Center, said Ms. Storlie. The City Council is considering moving the Civic Center downtown, or elsewhere, and if that happens, the City will look for partners with which to share that space.
The current Civic Center needs renovations in order to meet Evanston’s standards and to comply with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. The cost of these renovations is an estimated $20 million, said Ms. Storlie. Building a new Civic Center downtown and consolidating it with other City operations, such as the Police and Fire Departments, is more financially feasible, she said.
“If we were to move the Civic Center downtown and build it with an institutional partner, that could be Oakton,” said Ms. Storlie. She said she hopes a new Civic Center will provide the push that Oakton and the City of Evanston need to finally bring a satellite campus to the City.
Where Might It Be?
On April 26, City Council members approved a resolution that allows the City to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate locations for the potential new Civic Center. The feasibility study is the first step to getting an Oakton satellite in Evanston, said Ms. Storlie.
Other locations that the City has discussed include the downtown Farmers’ Market parking lot on Oak Avenue and University Place; the Fire and Police Department headquarters at Lake Street and Elmwood Avenue; and the Maple Avenue parking garage, 1800 Maple Ave., said Ms. Storlie. The garage was constructed with the option of placing an additional structure on top, but no engineering study has been done to verify the safety of this.
Already a Strong ETHS/OCC Partnership
“If the officials in Evanston and the officials in Oakton can come together and make this happen, ETHS has everything to gain,” said Dr. Campbell. ETHS students and the Evanston community as a whole would really benefit from a local community college, he said. The partnership between ETHS and Oakton is now stronger than ever, he added. “We seem to want the same things for our kids,” said Dr. Campbell.
This partnership began with the emergence of dual credit classes taught at the high school by Oakton faculty. Following the start of the partnership, Oakton administrators met with representatives from nearby school districts in quarterly meetings to discuss the students’ needs.
“[These meetings] demonstrated that Oakton Community College was listening to its stakeholders,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Pete Bavis. More specifically, these meetings addressed the commute that ETHS students must make in order to attend Oakton and how that influences enrollment at the college, which Dr. Bavis said is lower than it should be.
Only about 9% of ETHS students attend Oakton after graduating, said Oakton Community College Trustee William Stafford. This is much lower than the other feeder high schools, which send close to 18% of their students to Oakton, he said. “We think it’s important that we have a bigger presence in Evanston to drive some of those numbers up and to service the community better,” said Mr. Stafford.
About two years ago, Oakton administrators began having serious conversations about creating a satellite campus in Evanston to increase ETHS representation at Oakton. Administrators from the college interviewed Dr. Bavis, Dr. Campbell, and Superintendent Eric Witherspoon to help the administrators understand how an Oakton satellite could best support Evanston students.
These discussions centered around the post-high-school futures of ETHS students, the transition to college, workforce development, transferability of credits, and the large college drop-out rates among ETHS students going to Oakton. The number of ETHS students graduating with an Oakton degree or certificate is much lower than the number of ETHS students who attend the college, said Dr. Witherspoon.
“We had conversations with [Oakton]; we expressed our concern that when our kids go to Oakton, we want them to be successful,” said Dr. Witherspoon. As a result of these meetings, Oakton began to prioritize the idea of persistence and supporting students in meaningful ways to help prepare them for a career, said Dr. Witherspoon. He and other administrators said they are very pleased with the college’s response to these concerns and its commitment to students.
In addition to the support Oakton provides ETHS graduates, the college also supports current high school students by helping them pass placement courses and exams that students are required to take when enrolled in Oakton and most community colleges. Students at Oakton who do not score high enough on the required English and a Math placement courses are placed in non-credit bearing courses, called O-level classes, until they improve their scores.
“Students can get stuck in this developmental math, reading cycle where they never actually make it out,” said Dr. Bavis. “That’s one of the barriers to persistence [to a degree or certificate].”
As part of the partnership between ETHS and Oakton, high school students have the option of taking these courses from an ETHS instructor. The courses are certified through Oakton, so students do not have to take the placement courses at the community college. “It’s a wonderful model,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “It’s helping our students make that transition.”
Administrators at ETHS said they are very grateful for what Oakton has done for their high school students. “The leadership at Oakton, both at their administrative level and the board of trustees has been extraordinarily responsive to the needs of Evanston,” said Dr. Bavis. ETHS is a “huge fan” of Oakton Community College, said Dr. Witherspoon. He said he is enthusiastic about the potential for an Oakton campus in Evanston, as are Ms. Toussaint and the Oakton Board of Trustees.
“Once we have a definitive plan, we’ll certainly share it with everyone,” said Ms. Toussaint. “We are excited as a board to really see this plan come to fruition.”