(Springfield)– The importance of adequate community college funding was one of the main topics addressed at the recent first meeting of the Illinois Board of Higher Education Finance Study Commission. The commission was established through the passage Senate Joint Resolution 88 this past spring. Its charge is to examine the means of funding higher education in Illinois including state appropriations, student financial aid, and possible funding alternatives.
“The open access institutions that really have to carry the water on student success get left out in the discussion on allocations and subsidy,” said Dennis Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) and the facilitator for the commission meetings. The meeting was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability and the principal presenter at the meeting, said, “In the community college sector, you are well below (the national average), close to the bottom seven both in state subsidies and in tuition.”
“I was impressed that the importance of our community colleges and that their funding issues figured prominently in the presentations made at this first commission meeting,” said Suzanne Morris, vice president of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and a representative of community colleges on the commission.
Morris is an advocate for more equitable funding of Illinois community colleges from the state. “The presenters echoed what we know to be true, that Illinois community colleges are critical for students in access to higher education and success in higher education,” she said.
Statewide, Illinois community colleges have been experiencing record enrollments, though state funding for the colleges has been static. Local tax bases are also being tapped out as property values fall. Tuition at community colleges has increased more than 35 percent over the past five years with some colleges increasing the student share 8 to10 percent per year to make up for inadequate funding.
“We are seeing the cornerstone of open access and affordable entry into post-secondary education pricing itself beyond the ability of the neediest students to pay for it,” said Morris.
“I hope that in future commission meetings, the discussion continues to emphasize the role of our community colleges and that we can devise some workable plan to keep these institutions accessible to all Illinoisans.”
The commission is scheduled to meet four more times before submitting its final report to the General Assembly by December 1, 2010. The next meeting will be held at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine on August 30.
Illinois community colleges serve nearly a million students each year in credit and non-credit programs. There are 48 community colleges within 39 districts, each district being guided by a board of trustees. The ICCB is the state coordinating board for community colleges.
More information on the Higher Education Finance Commission can be found at www.ibhe.org/SJR88/schedule.htm.