Harper College this week will cut the ribbon on a new program aimed at making it easier and cheaper for students to earn bachelor's degrees.
The Palatine-based community college is partnering with three universities -- DePaul, Roosevelt and Northern Illinois -- to provide six degree programs in popular areas, with all classes on Harper's campus.
Officials from the four institutions on Wednesday will formally dedicate what's being called The University Center at Harper College, which will have office space within Harper's Building D for academic advising. Eventually, officials hope to build a new $28.5 million, 43,000-square-foot building that would include classrooms, computer labs and work spaces, along with an innovation/entrepreneurship hub and center for regional economic development.
"It's extraordinarily important to the community to provide access to bachelor's degrees, right in their own backyard and, frankly, at a cost much more manageable than if they went to a (university) to pursue a degree," Harper President Ken Ender said.
Incoming Harper freshmen will be able to pick from one of six programs of study: DePaul's Communication and Media, Information Technology or Business Administration; Roosevelt's Criminal Justice or Educational Studies/Early Care and Education; or a still-to-be-announced program from NIU.
After completing about 60 credit hours of Harper courses and earning an associate degree, the student would apply to the university and take about 60 more credit hours to earn a bachelor's degree from that university. All classes would be held on Harper's campus, taught by both Harper and university professors.
Students would pay tuition for the first two years to Harper and to the university for the last two. Officials believe it would be a cost savings since students would avoid paying for room and board.
The universities plan to offer scholarships and other financial incentives to Harper students upon completion of the first two years of the program, according to Mark Mrozinski, Harper's assistant vice president for workforce development.
"It really is a wonderful option for students who are financially or geographically limited, or just want to stay in our community," Mrozinski said.
Harper already has more than 100 so-called 2+2 transfer pathway programs in which Harper has partnered with universities to pave the way for students to earn bachelor's degrees. But the new initiative would locate all classes in Palatine.
Harper officials believe it would also be different from other university centers, including the one near the College of Lake County's Grayslake campus. That facility includes 20 institutions providing some 130 degrees, certificates and professional development courses, and is an independent nonprofit organization, though its governance board includes a college representative.
Ender launched a task force led by Mrozinski about three years ago to explore forming a university center at Harper. That led to conversations with DePaul, Roosevelt and NIU, since those schools are among the top five universities where students go after Harper.
Harper is starting with six degree programs, but it could expand based on need and demand. Officials picked the initial set since those are the most common degrees students pursue after Harper.
"I think it can grow, and I think it will, because of the trend toward bachelor's degrees and the increasing cost to higher education," Mrozinski said.
Officials have projected enrollment of about 150 students per year.
DePaul plans to launch its business degree program sometime this spring, while the rest of the programs are expected to begin in the fall.