SPRINGFIELD – Representatives of the Illinois Community College Board told a Senate appropriations committee Thursday they were looking forward to a period of stability in higher education after weathering several years of state government dysfunction.
“I’m excited to come before you and not be talking about drastic budget cuts,” ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham told the committee, noting that community colleges have “continued a rich history of student success” despite “the challenges and uncertainty of a prolonged budget impasse, and declining state support.”
The ICCB’s total request is level with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal, which includes approximately $388.5 million from all funds. The total general revenue fund expenditures of $334 million represent an approximate 5 percent increase from a year ago for the community college system, which serves more than 675,000 students at 48 institutions.
Durham touted the governor’s proposal for adding $13.9 million into the system for community college operating grants and adult education programs.
“The governor’s investment in community colleges recognizes that we are the largest provider of public workforce training in the state,” Durham said.
Dr. Christine Sobek, president of Waubonsee Community College, said in an email that she is looking forward to seeing an increase in state appropriations.
"Waubonsee and the entire Illinois community college system will benefit from a stable and dependable level of funding from the state," Sobek said in a statement. "Our current funding system has been broken for many years and for many reasons. Moving forward, it would be helpful to identify an equitable funding system that will support the economic vitality of the communities and residents we serve."
The increase will be a first step in counteracting ill effects of the multiyear budget impasse which occurred under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Durham said. He noted the state provides about 16 percent of community college funding, per the latest available numbers, with property taxes and tuition making up approximately 42 percent each.
State Sen. Pat McGuire, a Crest Hill Democrat, said those contributions should each actually amount to one-third of funding, per the original parameters of community college funding. He asked what effect the disparities had on education.
“We’ve seen tuition go up for one thing,” Durham said, adding colleges generally do all in their power to avoid tuition hikes.
Since 2004, ICCB representatives said community college enrollment in the state has decreased by about 21 percent, and the City Colleges of Chicago have seen enrollment decreases of about 25 percent. Durham said enrollment of recent high school graduates grew slightly during that time, while adult enrollment has decreased.
Durham said despite enrollment decreases, college completion numbers for those obtaining an associate degree have grown, and Illinois leads the nation in this category.
Those numbers are important, Durham said, because nine of 10 students who graduate from a community college with an associate degree remain in the state for employment, meaning the state’s investment “goes even further.”
Part of the added funding for community colleges will go to development and expansion of apprenticeship programs, Durham said.
“Community colleges actively partner with local communities and employers in development of new programs targeted to meet local workforce demands,” he said.
State Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, questioned a $13.2 million expenditure in the appropriation for equalization grants for City Colleges of Chicago that has been in place for several years to offset property tax caps.
After some discussion, it was noted that there’s $71.2 million in Pritzker’s budget for equalization grants for community colleges across the rest of the state.
Lawmakers and ICCB representatives agreed to continue to discuss the formula used to administer these grants as well as the specialized funding for Chicago equalization.
The committee hearing was subject matter, so no vote was taken on the bill, Senate Bill 2188.