Highland Community College enrollment offsets state funding woes

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FREEPORT — Highland Community College leaders want to continue to grow enrollment to offset state funding reductions and other uncertainties after trustees approved a budget last week with a $272,000 deficit.

The budget, approved unanimously, allocates $13.8 million in spending, down about $700,000 from the fiscal year that ended June 30. The estimated revenues are $13.6 million, with proceeds of the college’s $2.6 million operating fund balance covering the deficit.

The college’s operating fund reached as high as $3.5 million, or 25 percent of its annual expenses, in June 2012 and June 2014, with the Illinois Community College Board personnel suggesting colleges maintain 20 percent of their annual expenses in savings.

“The state budget issues have been a slow progression ending with these last two years having a bigger impact,” said Jill Janssen, Highland’s vice president of administrative services. “It started quite a few years ago with cash flow issues. We’ve seen that, and watched that and planned for that.”

Highland leaders added two program options this fall: a transfer degree in environment sciences and an associate’s degree in mechatronics, which is a combination of electronics, hydraulics and computer controls, said Pete Willging, the college’s director of marketing and community relations. They’ll add a certificate in phlebotomy in January, he added.

In the past year or so, Highland administrators cut six positions, reduced employee benefits and some employees’ hours and saved money on property and liability insurance, among other savings.

Meanwhile, enrollment and tuition increases added about $400,000 to the current fiscal year’s revenue. Highland’s tuition and fees increased by $5 per credit hour to $136 per credit hour, which added $75 to the cost of a 15-hour course load this fall. Then, 1,925 students enrolled in 17,718.5 credit hours this fall, up from 1,837 students who were enrolled in 17,505.5 credit hours last fall.

In addition, the college’s property tax rate is remaining the same while property values went up slightly, which translates to a half-percent increase in property tax revenue, Janssen said. The property tax assessments for the college’s four-county district had been falling since 2009, but saw a half percent increase last year. This year, Janssen is estimating the assessments will increase 1 percent.

The Highland Community College Foundation also has helped buffer state funding reductions.The foundation’s portion of Highland’s operating revenue increased from about 5 percent in the fiscal year that started July 1, 2014 to 7 percent in the current fiscal year, Janssen said. By comparison, state funding dropped from 13 percent of the revenue in the fiscal year that started July 1, 2014 to 5 percent in the current fiscal year.

Jillian Duchnowski: 815-232-0156; jillian.duchnowski@journalstandard.com; @jillianduch

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Highland Community College enrollment offsets state funding woes

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