Heartland: Funding cuts threaten student progress

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LINCOLN — Heartland Community College officials are concerned that cutbacks made because of the state budget impasse could hurt the progress the school has made in keeping students in school.

In addition, Doug Minter, vice president for business services, told the board of trustees, meeting Tuesday at Heartland’s Lincoln Center, that the college has drawn about $135,000 from its contingency fund two-thirds of the way through its fiscal year, “which is not standard process in a normal budget year.”

Heartland is still working from stopgap state funding from last year as the governor and lawmakers seek agreement on a balanced budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1.

In a report to the board, Heartland President Rob Widmer said the college has made gains in student persistence — the measure of students returning to school from semester to semester and earning certificates or degrees.

Widmer credited that improvement in persistence — coupled with programs such as College Now, which enables students to get college credit while still in high school — for Heartland’s ability to show an overall gain in enrollment from 2013 to 2017.

Heartland was among only three public community colleges in the state to register enrollment gains in that period. Heartland’s overall enrollment rose 2.5 percent from spring 2013 to spring 2017. The only others to show increases were Harper College, with a 2.6 percent increase, and the College of DuPage, with a gain of 1.9 percent.

“This is where it gets a little scary,” said Widmer. “We’ve had to cut student support services. … Is that going to have a longer-term impact if we don’t have more money to put into it?”

The cuts include reduction in tutor availability and library hours, he said after the meeting.

While the college does not have evidence that the cut in support services is having a negative impact, it is a concern, said Widmer.

The college has made a conscious effort to focus on keeping students in school not only to stabilize its enrollment but also to fulfill its commitment to student success.

Citing figures from the National Student Clearinghouse and the National Community College Benchmark Project, Widmer said Heartland is “far exceeding the national benchmarks, indicative of the commitment we’ve made to our students — our commitment to student success.”

For example, among Heartland students who started in 2009 and attended college exclusively full time, 79 percent received a certificate or degree within six years compared to a national benchmark of 54.5 percent. More dramatically, 61.5 percent of those full-time students received a bachelor’s degree in that six-year period compared to a national benchmark of 24.7 percent.

In another matter, the board discussed a bill moving through the General Assembly that could give some community colleges the authority to grant bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

Widmer said, based on discussion among staff, Heartland would not pursue authority to grant such degrees, even if the legislation passes. Heartland officials would support passage of the legislation, however.

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Heartland: Funding cuts threaten student progress

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