Heartland chair questions expecting state money


NORMAL — The head of the Heartland Community College board of trustees thinks the district needs to consider creating a budget without any money from the state.

Noting there is still no state budget seven months into the fiscal year and “no indication that it’s coming,” Chairman Gregg Chadwick said at Tuesday night’s meeting, “I’m not sure it makes sense to continue to assume we’ll have state money.”

Heartland’s budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, calls for about $1.2 million in revenue from the state.

His comments came as the board voted to increase tuition and fees by 2.8 percent, raising the total per-credit-hour cost from $144 to $148.

Among reasons cited for the increase was continued uncertainty about state funding.

The $2 per-credit-hour increase in tuition, bringing it to $137 per hour, will bring in an estimated $200,000 in additional revenue, according to Doug Minter, vice president of business services.

Also included was a $2 learning management system fee. That fee previously was charged only to students in online or hybrid online courses, at a rate of $30 per course, even though traditional courses also use the learning management system.

Changing it to a universal fee charged to all students is “a more fair approach” that spreads out the cost, said Rick Pearce, vice president for learning and student success.

Minter said the fee will result in a net revenue increase of about $30,000.

Heartland staff is in the early stages of planning for next year’s budget.

President Rob Widmer said they were already talking about the need to “look at options and alternatives” to state funding.

Chadwick noted that community colleges have always talked about revenue as a three-legged stool with state funding, tuition/fees and property taxes being the legs.

Chadwick asked, “If we take that (state) leg of the stool out, how do we make it up?” 

Trustee Don Gibb noted that another leg also is in question.

“One of the things that’s out there is a freeze on property taxes,” he said, referring to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal for a statewide freeze on such taxes.

Meanwhile, trustees and administrators are concerned about increased tuition making community college unaffordable.

“It becomes sort of a snowball,” said Chadwick, saying higher tuition could result in fewer students, which would result in the need for higher tuition, which could price out more students.

“I don’t know how the spiral ends,” he said. “We’ve patiently waited for the state budget.”

So far, Heartland has held steady on enrollment.

Trustees were told during the meeting that the overall headcount for students in undergraduate programs was up slightly from a year ago — 4,740 compared to 4,711 — but the number of credit hours for which students enrolled was down 0.1 percent.

Widmer said spring enrollment “came close to where we though it would,” although they had hoped credit hours would increase. He said retention of students from fall to spring “outperformed a year ago.”

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Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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February 21, 2017 at 01:31PM

Heartland chair questions expecting state money

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