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Joliet’s $43 Million Bridge to Pizza Hut

Guest Commentary
by Mark Batinick
May 16, 2011

About two and a half years ago, I decided to start paying closer attention to my local governmental bodies.

I have been self employed my entire adult life. As someone who appreciates the value of every last dollar, it has been staggering to witness the waste, fraud, and abuse. I never realized that my local governmental bodies even had access to the amount of money misspent.

But, one of the most frustrating ways our tax dollars are wasted comes from the utter ineptitude of those responsible for it. The new Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center at Joliet Junior College is one of those examples.

One the surface, this may seem like a benign project. JJC does have a widely acclaimed Culinary Arts program. The administration recommended its expansion. But the underlying facts are very disturbing.

Joliet Junior College is in, well, Joliet. For those of you who are not familiar with Joliet, we are not filled with 5 star restaurants on hotels. This is not a resort area. In fact, the Will County board completed a study that showed pay in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Industry is the lowest among job sectors in the area.

One area pizza restaurant owner informed me that he hires JJC Culinary graduates “all the time”.

Here is the utter ineptitude of the JJC board. In deciding to build this massive expansion, no data about graduates was used. They don’t track the success rate of their graduates! They are spending $43M without any idea as to whether the people that will be using the program will actually benefit from it. When citizen activist Brad Baber presented facts to the board, they finally decided that maybe it would be a good idea to get some data and conduct a survey.

The survey was a poorly executed. The school merely emailed 120 graduates from last year. A survey of students from 5-10 years ago would provide better data. But, out of the 120 graduates emailed, only 17 responded. Apparently the results were so bad, they weren’t even released. The head of the Culinary program could only speak of two students who received positions in downtown Chicago, outside the district. Despite the lack of evidence to support the project, 5 of the 7 board members are poised to vote for its approval at the May 31st meeting.

Isn’t the point of community colleges to prepare students for the future? Sure, they can offer some classes for fun like dancing, painting, etc. But, its core focus is to prep students looking to transfer to a four year institution. Or, prepare students for jobs in the district. We don’t offer a marine biology program here, correct? Health Care, IT, Logistics, etc. are fields that are thriving locally. Why not expand those programs?

This $43M project is a “Bridge to No-where” for taxpayers because the money is not being well spent. But, it is truly a “Bridge to Pizza Hut” for students. They may be fooled into believing that this degree will provide them excellent job opportunities. It likely won’t. At best we are spending local taxpayer dollars to train our youth to leave the district. At worst, we are wasting two years of their educational life fooling them into believing they have a future in this field.

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