Community colleges face tough times

By Carly O'Keefe
CARTERVILLE, IL (KFVS) - In recent years, John A. Logan College President Dr. Bob Mees says the state's community college system has had used to do more with less.
"The start of this year, a 5.3 percent increase for the first time since 2002 approved by the General Assembly and then the governor vetoed it, and took $18 million," Mees said.  "That put us down to a one percent decrease.  Now, we've been told to hold 2.5 percent of our budget for the remainder of the year.  That's another $8 million for state community colleges so we're very concerned."
Mees has already looked at places to trim JALC's budget to make up for the $360,000 the governor asked the community college not to spend.  He says they'll have to reduce the number of sections offered for some classes, delay new programs, cut back on energy costs, and put holds on hiring for positions left vacant by retiring or resigning faculty.
"We're looking at all those things, and we're hoping this turns around before much longer," Mees said.
"Higher education has been cut to the bone; it's just amazing how they've been asked to do so much with so little," said said Republican State Representative Mike Bost of Murphysboro.  "They end up passing it on in tuition fees."
According to Mees, now is not the time to raise tuition.  He says in this economy, the state's community colleges need to offer out-of-work Illinoisans a new start at an affordable price.
"Community colleges are a bargain compared to universities and our tuition is $71 a credit hour, and there's no other fees attached, but with the economy the way it is, it's a problem for some people," said Mees.  "We know some students aren't going to school right now because of the cost."
Representative Mike Bost says funding for higher education is not just important for the sake of students.  He worries more funding cuts could lead to lay-offs at southern Illinois' largest employers.
"The largest employer south of Springfield in the State of Illinois is SIU," Bost said.  "It's even greater than that if you count all of the community colleges south of Springfield.  They're jobs as well as our ability to compete with the world in our higher education system."
But until the trial to remove Governor Rod Blagojevich wraps up, little can be done to straighten out the state budget.  That means community colleges and everyone else will remain in limbo.