FREEPORT — Highland Community College tuition is set to increase again in the fall — this time by twice the amount of this year’s increase.
Highland’s trustees voted, 7-1, on Tuesday to increase tuition $12, or about 9 percent, from $129 to $141 per credit hour. A student with a full 15-credit course load will pay $2,460 per semester, including the $16 per-credit-hour technology fee which was raised by $2 earlier this year and $9 per-credit-hour activity fee; that’s an overall increase of $210. The senior citizen rate will increase from $97 to $106 per credit hour.
For perspective, Highland’s tuition was $99 per credit hour in fall 2011 and has increased each year since.
Highland Board of Trustees Chairman Doug Block said the trustees understand raising tuition is not ideal, but they have to fight decreased state funding somehow.
“There’s a chunk to make up and we haven’t done it yet, to be honest,” Block said. “We’re struggling, just like everyone else.”
Student trustee Staci Hammer was the lone vote against raising tuition. The school needs money to survive, but that burden shouldn’t be placed on the students, she said.
“I had to vote no on the tuition increase because it’s not fair to students to have to make up the funds that the state should be providing, and could be providing, if it weren’t for the messy politics.”
Highland lost about $2.5 million in funding over the last two years due to the state’s budget impasse, said Jill Janssen, the college’s vice president of administrative services. During that same time period, Highland leaders reduced expenses by $500,000 but the college’s fund balances, or savings, have absorbed the rest of the deficit.
The $12 rate increase will generate about $480,000 in new revenue, but it is not enough to balance the college’s budget. The college’s savings will drop to about 8 percent of the college’s annual operating costs
“We would have needed more like $30 and we never seriously considered that, but it was sort of a way to gauge what would be needed,” she said. “That was beyond what would be affordable to our students.”
Despite the deficit, Highland leaders do not plan to cut any programs aside from the wind turbine technician program, which is in its final semester due to a lack of enrollment.
In the past 2 1/2 years, leaders have added six programs and plan to add course offerings, said Tim Hood, Highland’s president.
“Making cuts deeper than we already have would jeopardize the high quality of education you’ll find at Highland as a student,” Hood said.
To cut costs, Highland leaders reduced employee benefits and negotiated to reduce vendors’ rates. This fiscal year, they added two furlough days by requiring all staff to take two days off without pay during the college’s spring break.
Last year, six employees were cut, saving about $351,000. This year, only the wind turbine program leader is expected to be let go, Hood said.
“Most colleges and universities have closed many more programs than one,” Hood said. “It was painful and we lost a very good and dedicated faculty member as a result of that.”
Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of Highland students receive financial aid or take out loans, Hood said.
The tuition hike could mean more students take out loans, but Highland leaders plan to combat that with more scholarship money. Highland offers more than $350,000 in scholarships each year, but leaders want to increase that by 25 percent within the next five years, Hood said.
An endowment from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois will match each dollar donated to the college this year, up to $1 million. So far, more than $400,000 has been received, Hood said.
Scholarships are the only way some students can afford classes, Hammer said.
“When I talked to my fellow students I found that half of them relied almost completely on scholarships to pay for their tuition, while the other half struggled even with the help of financial aid,” Hammer said.
Derrick Mason: 815-232-0133; email@example.com; @derrickhmason
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March 23, 2017 at 01:01PM