By Jodi S. Cohen and Stacy St. Clair
The College of DuPage often boasts about its enrollment growth, using words like "dramatic" and "astonishing" to describe how it has bucked statewide trends.
Its most recent growth, though, was not entirely due to an increase in students but rather in part to how some class time was counted.
The college increased the number of credits given to students in a law enforcement training program without increasing the amount of instruction — a change that led one top official at the police academy to question "the integrity of this process" before he resigned late last year, the Tribune has learned.
Dan Maloney, the academy's program manager and a former deputy chief at the Bartlett Police Department, said in a November email that he was not comfortable signing off on the additional credits, cautioning that it could be "problematic" if the college were audited by regulators.
"This needs to be fixed before it becomes a larger issue," Maloney warned supervisors in the email, one of many obtained by the Tribune. "I am requesting your help in this matter."
The issue is the latest controversy for the publicly funded College of DuPage, and the first to strike at the college's academic integrity. Until now, critics have focused on the school's spending practices and financial oversight, including the trustees' decision to award a $763,000 buyout package for President Robert Breuder when he departs next year as well as his lavish spending at the campus's upscale restaurant.
Now faculty leaders are calling for an independent investigation to determine whether school and state academic policies were violated in awarding the extra credits, while the Illinois Community College Board has asked school administrators for additional information about the changes. The U.S. Department of Education also has made inquiries about the issue after information was shared with college regulators and state lawmakers late last week.
"This is what we're about: Giving credit and knowledge. You can't just give it away like it's nothing," said Glenn Hansen, president of the faculty association. "This is the coin of our realm."
College officials said making the change was well within their purview and that their motivation was to give police recruits the credit they deserve. They said, too, that the academy curriculum covered more college-level courses than were being counted. They also said they wanted recruits on the Glen Ellyn campus to receive a similar number of credits as police trainees in some of the other programs in the state.
"We wanted to do the right thing for the recruits," Thomas Brady, an associate dean who oversees the police academy, said in an interview. "They were doing the work and deserved to get the credit."
But records show administrators had been under pressure to raise enrollment. Breuder had challenged them to boost enrollment to 17,677 full-time equivalent students in spring 2014 — a number he picked because it would best the college's highest-ever fall enrollment, a record set in 2004 under a previous president.
In his weekly newsletter, Breuder wrote that he presumed the school reached the 2004 mark because students had taken a lot of credit hours. Colleges calculate full-time equivalent students, known as FTEs, by taking the total credit hours of all students and dividing by 15.
The college fell short of its goal, though Breuder insisted it remained a viable one.
"College of DuPage is pushing upward amid downward statewide and national community college enrollment trends," he wrote in September in what is a mantra for the school's marketing department.
For years, the College of DuPage - COD for short - has been joked about as the Collection of Dummies. Now it turns out to be partly true, except that the dummies are all in the school administration and board of trustees.
It's against that backdrop that enrollment climbed to 16,857 in the fall — a 1.8 percent increase and the fourth-largest in school history. Of 292 new FTEs, 32 were attributed to the police academy changes, according to the college. Those changes also added about 45 FTEs to the current spring enrollment numbers.
College officials said the increase in credit hours will mean about $65,000 more annually in state funding, which is allocated based on student enrollment.
The Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, based at the College of DuPage, offers a 12-week training program four times a year, and about 240 recruits participate annually. It is one of six state-run police academies that train and certify police officers.
Three of the academies are based at community colleges and one is at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While the police curriculum is mandated by the state, the affiliated schools can decide whether to also provide academic credits to recruits who successfully complete the academy program.
The four that do so offer from nine to 24 credit hours.
Before this academic year, the College of DuPage awarded recruits 13 college credits. In the fall, school officials decided the academy curriculum was deserving of nine additional credits — arguing that the instruction matched three more traditional college-level criminal justice classes on gangs, criminal investigation and juvenile delinquency.
The recruits now get 22 credits, though the amount of instruction is the same as when they got 13.
When enrollment figures were announced in September, Joseph Collins, the college's executive vice president, said much of the credit for the increase went to the school's continuing education division, along with a dual credit program. The policy academy credits are tied to the continuing education division.
"I know it was a team effort to get this incredible result," Collins wrote in an email. "I know these two areas were pushed hard to try to better last year's performance ... and they came through with flying colors."
To drive home the impact, Joseph Cassidy, the dean of continuing education, responded that without the two programs, enrollment would be down. "Great work everyone!" he wrote.
The idea to boost credits for police academy students was developed in late summer by academy director Michael Casey, Brady said.
Maloney, the academy program manager, pushed back throughout the fall, according to the emails. Specifically, he objected to giving college credit for academy work he did not think correlated to the three classes that had been added.
A day after Maloney raised his concerns, Brady told Maloney that college officials had changed their minds and dropped two of the classes, on gangs and juvenile delinquency. They decided instead that two other college-level classes better matched the academy curriculum: Rules of Evidence and Multiculturalism and Diversity.
Brady, a chief investigator with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service before joining the college, told the Tribune that officials decided the gangs and juvenile delinquency classes did not correspond to enough instruction time at the academy to earn the additional credit hours.
"Through our due diligence, we took a look at the other classes and these were an easy fit," Brady said.
Maloney wrote that he still was not comfortable providing the additional credit hours.
College of DuPage's spending under investigation, sources say "The classes in question have changed but the issues of necessary instructional hours and as well as a measure of (assessing) academic performance appear to be the same," he wrote.
Maloney did not respond to interview requests from the Tribune.
In late October, Maloney asked that the college's curriculum committee decide how many credits are justified. The request was denied.
"While I appreciate your concerns we need to move forward to allow the basic academy recruits the credit they truly deserve for these classes," Brady responded.
Maloney called into question "the integrity of this process" and requested a meeting with administrators in late November. He asked that faculty from the curriculum committee be present. That request was denied.
In December, after working at the academy for eight years, Maloney resigned.
Hansen, the faculty association president, questioned why full-time faculty in the criminal justice program were not consulted to determine whether the academy's instruction matched what is taught in the college-level courses.
"It's about bragging rights. It's about money," he said. "But it's a misguided measure because it doesn't have anything to do with learning."
Although the police academy curriculum is set by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, the Illinois Community College Board approves the awarding of academic credit in college programs, and the ICCB had previously approved the college's criminal justice curriculum. The college did not need separate approval to award credit to the academy recruits; it's allowed leeway to decide whether the learning outcomes have been met to grant credit.
Still, the agency is looking into the matter further because of "the repeated accusations against College of DuPage."
Political science professor David Goldberg, who chairs the faculty union's grievance committee, said there are processes to approve classes and credit hours.
"I can't arbitrarily say my three-hour foreign policy class is now worth six hours," said Goldberg, who reviewed the emails. "If you track the timing of when this came about and these emails, it is not driven by a desire to have more academic rigor. It is simply to bump up and inflate these numbers."
Just last week, DuPage residents got a glossy brochure in their mailboxes.
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