Community colleges are currently enjoying “most favored” status with the Obama administration. That recognition is due mostly to the relatively low cost, and the focus on technical skills that result in job possibilities immediately upon a student’s graduation. Much of the federal funding of education has remained stable, but most of that money directly benefits students, not the colleges’ operating budgets. Sauk receives only about 5 percent of its annual budget in the form of federal grants. When the Illinois Community College System was established, the funding formula operated on the basis that one-third of the revenue would come from local property taxes, one-third from student tuition, and one-third from state appropriations. In recent years, this formula has been shifted to provide less state support, which has resulted in a greater proportion funded student tuition.
The result is increased costs to the student. The desire and need to keep a college education affordable is jeopardized moving the cost out of reach of those who need it the most. Our college board is committed to keeping tuition as affordable as possible, but it is the only revenue source over which we have control.
We are at a point where many of our time-tested standards or universal truths are being challenged. At one time, a higher education level meant a higher salary and job security. While this is still largely true, one could probably make a good case that a certificate in welding is more valuable in today’s job market than a graduate degree in philosophy. Regardless of the degree, higher-paying jobs require some post-secondary education. Education is a vital part of our needed economic fix. We must be careful not to price college education out of the reach of the average American, and colleges must have the resources to provide the means for its graduates to obtain quality jobs. There was a time when some colleges and universities probably had a surplus of money, but that no longer is remotely true anywhere I can think of. While the state of Illinois is making some efforts to make its share of payments to the college, the state currently owes Sauk about $1.5 million. Realizing there are many other entities in need of money across the state, we at the college are working on alternative ways to cope with the loss of operational funds from the state.
At SVCC, we have been preparing for “worst-case scenarios” as best we can. Over the last several years, we have eliminated all but the most essential purchases, reduced staff 17 percent, become more efficient in our class scheduling, and initiated ways to reduce energy consumption. We have done all that while experiencing an increase in enrollment of more than 20 percent during the same period. Through careful spending, Sauk has been able to maintain a cash reserve, which is necessary for basic operations, as well as prepare for a shortfall, or to create new programs.