Guest View: State budget needed for colleges to thrive

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Community college funding is very complex. First, it has three major sources of funding — the state, local taxes, and student tuition and fees. Then, there is equalization funding which is an attempt by the state to equalize funding between rich districts and poorer districts.

John A. Logan College is a poorer district, as are all southern Illinois colleges. Logan’s total budget for FY17 is $29 million, which is down from a high in FY10 of $41 million.

Normally, the college receives about $11 million in state funding each year. This money is received in fairly equal payments on a regular schedule, usually monthly, throughout the year. The college knew early in the year how much would be received and when we would get it.

Everything changed two years ago when the state stopped adopting a budget and started funding higher education in a “stopgap” fashion. This approach to funding makes it impossible to plan effectively, since it is not known how much money will be received or when it will arrive.

The college received FY16 money in June 2016 and received FY17 money in September 2016. In FY16, the college received $4 million — a reduction of about $7 million. In order to adjust to the loss of funding, the college laid off 55 employees — 35 faculty and 20 nonfaculty.

Even with these layoffs, the College ended FY16 with about a $4 million deficit, which was temporarily covered through internal borrowing (borrowing from ourselves) and various transfers of funds.

The college has received $4.3 million in FY17 (July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017). Again, this amount reflects another $7 million reduction from a normal allocation.

So, for the last two fiscal years, the college has been shorted about $14 million in state funding. There will be additional reductions in operating expenditures during this fiscal year to make up for this funding shortfall, but it is too early to know what action will be taken to close the funding gap.

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For the first time in the history of the college, student revenues (tuition, fees, etc.) comprise 50 percent of the college budget. Twenty-five percent comes from local taxes and state funding, respectively. The total operating budget has been reduced about $10 million from FY15 levels. The reduction is about 25 percent overall.

From a programmatic standpoint, I am happy to report that no programs or services provided by the college have been eliminated. Dental hygiene and computer-aided drafting are being “taught out,” but all other programs are intact. In fact, we are developing new program initiatives for future implementation. All academic programs are still available, all student services are still offered, and all facilities remain open including the attendance centers in Du Quoin and West Frankfort. That’s a remarkable feat given the loss in revenue that has been experienced by the college.

The future for state funding for higher education in general and community colleges particularly is in doubt. There is no indication at this point that any additional funding will be forthcoming during this fiscal year, which makes planning, even for the next few months, nearly impossible. It forces us to plan for the worst and hope for the best, which is a very unsound method in planning for the future of the college.

Let us hope the state comes to its senses and adopts an annual budget soon.

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Guest View: State budget needed for colleges to thrive

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