The reason is a 12 percent loss in state funding over the last six years. For blame, look no further than the ongoing budget mess in Springfield, a political stalemate that continues to astonish.
Illinois hasn’t had a budget in nearly two years. The state is projecting shortfalls of $5.3 billion for the current fiscal year, providing virtually no stability to institutions that rely on state revenues.
Recently, the Richland board passed a budget that didn’t include any money from the state, leaving only the tax levy and enrollment as funding sources. The cut positions — chief of staff, vice president of economic development and innovative workforce solutions, director of human resources and two more at the Duplication Center – reflect the need “to restructure in light of the college’s limited financial resources,” according to the school.
It’s impossible to run anything – a checking account, a business, a college – without knowing how much cash will be coming. That would be fiscally senseless.
The problem is, this isn’t just another line item. This is about education and job-training, two critical pieces of import to our state’s economy and well-being. The state’s 48 community colleges act as a conduit to high-paying and high-tech jobs, careers that will help Illinois attract more companies, more investors and bigger revenues for state coffers.
Want a degree in nuclear power generation? Head to Richland. How about geospatial technology and global-positioning systems? Heartland Community College in Normal has that.
This is our state’s future. Having a robust and well-funded community college system producing trained graduates stabilizes our region and makes us a desirable place to live. It’s a key piece of the puzzle to making our community grow. For low-income Illinoisans, an affordable educational opportunity is a lifeline to a better life.
Of course, this is an issue hardly confined to community colleges. Southern Illinois University in July cut a quarter of graduate teaching assistant positions because there’s just no money from the state. Illinois State University had to cut or leave vacant 120 administrative positions. The University of Illinois is owed about half of the $644 million promised for fiscal year 2015. Chicago State University laid off about 40 percent of employees.
Truth be told, Richland — which has operations in Clinton and Decatur — has seen an almost 13 percent drop in enrollment since 2011. That’s a concern.
But a bigger concern is that these layoffs, while small, are part of a pattern that will continue at schools of higher learning across the state. It forces a shift in priorities that’s a concern.
Cost-cutting is good. Finding efficiencies is good. But we worry about the path we’re now on. Is it logical to eliminate a position in charge of innovative workforce solutions at a time when thinking outside the box and building our economy is imperative?
What’s next? Are our lawmakers listening? Will someone have the courage to build a consensus when lawmakers return to Springfield?
Is anyone listening?