SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois community colleges, including the ones serving the Peoria, Springfield and Galesburg areas, likely won’t be building and operating their own student housing anytime soon.





SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois community colleges, including the ones serving the Peoria, Springfield and Galesburg areas, likely won’t be building and operating their own student housing anytime soon.

That’s because House Bill 414, which would grant expanded authority to the educational institutions, has run into a legislative roadblock.

Some lawmakers say the problem boils down to a turf battle between four-year universities and two-year community colleges.

“The universities will tell you that they’re not against this bill, but they are,” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat who is the legislation’s Senate sponsor.

“They fear that by building dorms at two-year colleges, that eventually someone will come with (legislation) and say that the two-year colleges are four-year universities,” he said Friday. “You know what? The universities in Illinois sort of like the system they have now.”

“I have no problem with people defending their territory. I would defend my territory, too,” said Jacobs, who plans to work this summer with other lawmakers and school officials to craft some kind of compromise.

Illinois presently bars its two-year educational institutions from owning and operating on-campus homes for students, even though community college foundations may do so. For instance, the not-for-profit foundation for East Peoria-based Illinois Central College in 2004 built student apartments.

House Bill 414 would have lifted the ban, but only for community college districts that encompass eight or more counties. ICC, Springfield-based Lincoln Land Community College and Galesburg-based Carl Sandburg College all cover at least eight counties.

ICC officials testified in support of the legislation earlier this year at a House committee hearing. They said on-campus housing would benefit students, especially long-distance commuters.

On Friday, ICC President John Erwin said he is disappointed the bill has stalled.

“I really don’t understand why there would be such resistance,” he said. “It’s just patently discriminatory, and it needs to be corrected.”

Lincoln Land spokeswoman Lynn Whalen said the school has no plans to build student housing, but might consider adding on-campus residences if HB414 ever becomes law.

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, shepherded the bill through the House, where it passed on a vote of 82-32 in March.

“I think it’s an unfortunate turn of events,” Schock said of Jacobs’ decision not to proceed with the bill for now. “I’m committed to the issue. I’m committed to making it happen.”

Schock pinned part of the blame on the University of Illinois, which he said lobbied against the bill once it reached the Senate. Schock said he worked on compromise language for the bill when it was in the House, and those revisions led the U of I to take a neutral stance at the time.

U of I spokesman Mike Lillich said Friday the university is “officially neutral” on the legislation.

“Initially, there were concerns for what it could potentially do to the state landscape of higher education,” he added.

Sen. Michael Frerichs, a Gifford Democrat whose district includes the U of I’s Urbana-Champaign campus, said he supports Jacobs’ plan to have summer meetings on the issue.

“The state university system is a little concerned,” he said. “There are several community colleges that are looking to offer four-year degrees. They’re looking to expand. Rather than doing this piecemeal approach, we ought to have a broader dialogue on the future of higher education in the state.”

Western Illinois University spokesman John Maguire said the Macomb-based school opposes HB414.

WIU officials believe the state Board of Higher Education should consider the student housing idea and others “in context of the total statewide picture of the roles of community colleges and four-year schools,” he said. Also, he said, community colleges already can build student housing through their foundations, which means the proposed legislation “could be termed unnecessary.”

Jacobs, whose Senate district includes a community college but no four-year public institutions, said he believes community colleges should be able to build dormitories. But he thinks HB414 would have had a tough time winning enough committee votes to advance to the Senate floor during the current legislative session.

“I could try to ram it through, but you know, one thing that people will learn about me is I’m a person who believes in compromise on all levels,” Jacobs said. “Though we may have the votes to ram it down someone’s throat, I never think that’s a good system. I think the system works better if we find agreement between parties.”



Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.