Watson wants two new City Colleges campuses

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • March 16, 2009 @ 11:00 AM

The City Colleges of Chicago has plans in the works to create two new campuses by 2015, potentially bringing to nine the number of standalone colleges in the district.

Part of the plan would turn Dawson Technical Institute in Bronzeville into a fully accredited construction trade school. A second campus in the City Colleges network would provide business and management training in conjunction with Chicago-area companies.

Chancellor Wayne Watson, who is retiring this summer, outlined the plans in an exclusive interview with the Daily News last week.

“I will not see that happen but we are planting seeds right now for that to happen,” Watson says.

Dawson Tech currently offers training programs to help existing workers develop new skills. But the programs aren’t designed to give students the extensive training it takes over several years to progress from an apprentice to a journeyman in the construction trades.

“Billions of dollars are going to have to be spent on the trades in rebuilding America –  the roads, the bridges, et cetera,” Watson says. “Those workers are going to have to be trained and apprenticeship programs are going to have to be opened up to people of color and women.

But Tom Villanova, the president of the Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council, says the trades are already choked with out-of-work journeymen and for the foreseeable future, they won’t need to train more apprentices.

“Right now with the unemployment the way it is, nothing is needed because no one is taking apprentices right now,” Villanova says.

In the city alone, he says, there are 1,700 journeyman electricians “sitting on the bench” because there isn’t enough work for them.

“We’re willing to work with the City Colleges,” Villanova says. “We’ve been working with them on Dawson.”

So far the Chicago Federation of Labor isn’t involved, says spokesman Nick Kaleba, but he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see organized labor have a role as the program develops.

“There’s been pretty good partnership between the building and construction trades and … the City Colleges,” Kaleba says.

Watson says a second new campus would be modeled after a similar one in Ohio.

The Corporate College at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland works with companies in the area there like Alcoa, UPS and Progressive Insurance, according to information on its Web site.

Not only does the college offer training programs for those companies, but it also provides degree programs for students in areas like business management, human resources and running small businesses.

Such a campus at the City Colleges would grow out of the district’s business institute, which is currently housed at Harold Washington College.

“Right now the business institute is a compilation of different training contracts,” Watson says.

Watson wants the City Colleges to have a completely new campus like Cuyahoga’s, focused on “dealing with meeting the needs of the different corporations, the different industries, within the city of Chicago,” he says.

That would mean adding not only business classes, but developing the range of programs and general education courses needed before students can earn a degree.

Plans to expand the business institute already have the strong backing of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. It helps that Jim Tyree is the chairman of both the chamber and the City Colleges, says Jerry Roper, the president of the chamber.

“(The chamber) is focusing on innovation as a key component to keeping a company competitive, and so there has to be a basic understanding of innovation,” Roper says.

Watson makes no bones that there will be plenty of hurdles to bringing both campuses to fruition. Courses and curricula must be developed along with labor unions and area companies. The programs must all receive accreditation before students can enroll. And facilities may have to be built or renovated to give the colleges the space they’ll need.

“There’s no certainties,” Watson says. “It doesn’t exist. Certain things are on faith.”

While most presidents and some administrators at the City Colleges have heard Watson’s vision, most members of the Board of Trustees have not, he says.

“What it’s going to depend on is someone who comes in who continues that vision,” Watson says.

The costs of the new campuses and programs have yet to be determine, Watson says.


Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18