Lake Land College’s recent announcement that its credit hours remain stable despite a 2.6 percent drop in student headcount is certainly an example of good news at a time when a decline in state funding for higher education across the board has resulted in cutbacks, layoffs and the inevitable drop in enrollments for many schools in the state.
Community colleges are often tagged with a rather unfair reputation compared to universities, and even more so when that community college may exist in the shadow of a university that’s in the very same county.
If you grew up in the Coles County area, LLC might be something you may have taken for granted. Coming out of high school, you most likely knew someone, or may have been someone yourself who, when asked what their college plans were, shrugged and said without much fanfare, that they were “just” going to Lake Land. Why? Perhaps because Lake Land College is one of those places that’s always been there, and you either went there or didn’t -- pretty much exactly how you either went to Eastern or you didn’t for the same reasons.
But with the recent fall enrollment report, perhaps Lake Land’s track record of success requires more notice as an example of what can and does work with community colleges.
The continued value of a community college education today echoes the same factors that many were told by high school counselors upon first picking up a Lake Land College catalog; or that parents doing the same for their soon-to-be-high school graduates have heard for years: cost, flexibility of schedules, diversity of programs offered, smaller class sizes, and availability of instructors compared to universities.
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This is, of course, not to present a false narrative that Lake Land and EIU are in competition somehow, or that one is “up” while the other is “down” at the moment. EIU provides just as much a value to our community, and its difficulties as of late currently aren’t unique among other state schools in Illinois, and thus, not its own doing.
Yes, there’s something to be said about the “experience” of attending a four-year university; moving away from home, dorm life, and meeting new people from different walks of life. But there’s also something to be said about a community college experience that will let you do something as relatively “simple” as allowing a student to check off those pesky 1000-level requirement courses in an environment where they don’t feel lost in the lecture-hall shuffle and where instructors are perhaps more readily available for assistance.
But it’s also the diversity of classes offered that have helped Lake Land’s credit hours remain stable; the expansion of dual college credit courses, as well as Career Academy vocational courses and the new Presidential Scholarship academics-based program, are likely all factors that help make Lake Land College a continued “first choice” for many entering college or non-traditional students looking to further their education, not just because as previously mentioned, it’s “there,” but because it's something that’s here, and that works.
Which is why, after all, “community” is in its name.
-- JG-TC Editorial Board