When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, one of his promises was to transform the city’s education system. Since then, he has taken credit for an enormous improvement in the city’s community college system.
If the mayor’s claims are to be believed, his administration dramatically reinvented Chicago’s community college system. However, when you take a closer look, it becomes apparent that there is more than meets the eye.
The Better Government Association (BGA), a non-partisan watchdog group, recently published the results of an investigation into Mayor Emanuel’s supposed reforms and uncovered a shocking discrepancy between his claims and reality. The data shows that the administration inflated key metrics to make it appear as if the community college system were improving.
The BGA’s report shows that the mayor’s characterization of Chicago’s community college’s improvement is “largely an illusion — a crash course in data manipulation that has turned the seven-campus community college system into one where it is easier to get a degree but often more difficult to get an education.”
Rahm Emanuel “Reinvents” Chicago’s Education System
Mayor Emanuel claims that since he became mayor in 2011, the graduation rate in the City Colleges of Chicago increased from 7% to 17%.
He also stated that the number of degrees awarded by the colleges has skyrocketed. Emanuel credits his administration’s policies for the increase. Recently, he urged the City Colleges chancellor to raise this rate to 25% by 2019.
Sounds pretty promising so far, right? Not so fast.
What’s Really Going On?
The BGA’s report shows that a part of Emanuel’s claims is true: graduation rates and completion numbers have risen. However, their investigation demonstrates that there is more to the story.
Here’s the reality: in 2017, the number of college students in the city numbered about 83,000 — which is 35% lower than when Emanuel took office in 2011. Not only that, the colleges have experienced a significant decrease in revenue — so much that they had to lay off 120 administrative employees and put the district’s headquarters up for sale.
And yet, in 2016, Chicago’s college system reported that it awarded 5,010 degrees – doubled the annual number before Emanuel took office. So how did he do it?
Did he implement effective policies that encouraged more students to attend community colleges? No. He just found a way to artificially inflate the numbers.
How Mayor Emanuel Defrauded Chicago’s Education System
In order to raise the graduation rates, the City Colleges began lowering its standards for awarding degrees in 2010. The BGA reports that the colleges “watered down its curriculum,” and “changed the way it counts statistics and bestowed thousands of degrees — sometimes in multiples to the same person — to current and former students who in many cases neither requested nor wanted them.”
Simply put, they manipulated the colleges’ learning standards to allow more current and former students to become eligible to receive degrees. This subterfuge meant that the colleges awarded a significant number of degrees to students who didn’t earn them; indeed, many were not even aware they had received these awards.
One student was awarded an Associate of Arts degree in 2014, but the college’s records show that she also received an Associate in General Studies in 2015. The problem? The former student stated that she never received the degree. “I never got that degree. All I got was an AA…nobody ever called me,” she told the BGA. “Nobody ever said anything to me. All I have is an AA framed on my wall, I swear.”
But, it gets worse. A 73-year-old alumnus was retroactively given an Associate in General Studies degree in 2015. She had no idea that she was eligible – which makes sense since the award was based on classes she took in the 1990s. “I got an Associate of Arts Degree there in 1994, with honors, but nothing since,” she said. “It makes me sad that they would do such a thing, but this degree means nothing to me.”
Chicagoans Are Being Duped
The bottom line is that Mayor Emanuel and his administration decided to score political points by swindling the city into believing they had improved the community college system. Instead of working to create real change, they created an elaborate ruse to fool voters. Meanwhile, the city’s education system continues to fail. College enrollment is still plummeting, which means more Chicagoans are not receiving a quality education.
The Windy City already has its share of problems. Its murder rate is among the highest in the nation. While the high school graduation rate is improving, its college system is suffering.
Unfortunately, the majority of Chicago’s citizens likely have no idea that their city’s leadership is hoodwinking them. They are not producing actual results — just massaging the number in a way that gives the appearance of success.
Their deception will probably go unnoticed, which means Chicago’s leadership will not be held accountable for their incompetence. Regrettably, it is the citizens who will bear the punishment for the Emanuel administration’s misdeeds.