Illinois' financial support for community colleges has declined in recent years, just as it has for four-year institutions. That's forcing many community colleges to raise the price of tuition, which Spoon River College President Curt Oldfield said makes it more difficult for the schools to serve their wide-ranging constituencies.
“With our open door we allow anybody from people who need a GED all the way to people who are preparing for a PhD to get started on their higher education pathway,” Oldfield said.
He said the Illinois community college system was founded in 1965 to make higher education accessible and affordable. But that's becoming more difficult due to the drop in state financial support.
Oldfield said SRC was supposed to receive a bit more than $1.4 million – about 10% of its operating funds -- from the state for the just-concluded school year. Instead it has received nothing.
“It seems to be that investment in higher education is a lower priority for the state of Illinois every year,” he said.
Oldfield said SRC has a good partnership in Macomb with Western Illinois University and he said the two schools continue working on ways to collaborate and support each other.
No Capital Funds Either
SRC is also waiting on state money so it can convert a building on East Jackson Street in Macomb into its new campus in that community. Macomb classes are currently held in the old high school building on South Johnson Street.
SRC renovated one-third of the building for its Macomb Community Outreach Center, which has been open for nearly eight years and is receiving plenty of use. But the rest of the building sits empty while the renovation cost rises.
“Each year we escalate it about 2.5%. So if we would have been able to complete the entire building eight years ago, it probably would have saved a sizeable amount of money for taxpayers and for the state of Illinois,” said Oldfield.
The current estimated cost is $18.3 million. The school would pay $4.5 million and SRC is asking the state to cover the rest of the cost. But it doesn’t appear the state will come through with its share anytime soon. Oldfield said the Macomb campus plan is not even on the top 50 list of community college construction projects in the state even though he believes SRC would benefit greatly from having the project done.
“I think it’s a matter of efficiency for us to have our campus here. It gives us a lot more availability for parking and greater accessibility for students,” he said.
“Right now we’re in the old Macomb High School, which has functioned well for us but we’re outgrowing the space as we continue to get more enrollment at the Macomb campus.”
SRC is also waiting on state money to remodel portions of the Taylor and Centers buildings on its Canton campus. SRC would pay $1.9 million while the state’s share is $5.9 million. That project is number two on the state’s community college construction list – but Oldfield said it’s moved up to that spot only after spending about 25 years on the list. And he said it hasn’t moved at all in the past five to seven years.