In today’s economic climate, most businesses and industries are faced with doing more with less, and community colleges are no exception. In early March, Illinois Central College was given less than 48 hours to trim $600,000 from our current fiscal year budget. That $600,000 equates to 5 percent of the total funding we receive from state appropriations. That request also came during the last quarter of a year when state appropriations were already reduced by 3 percent at the onset.
When all is said and done at the end of this year, ICC has lost nearly 11 percent—more than $1 million—of its funding from the State of Illinois in the past two years.
What makes this cutback particularly difficult is the fact that we’re educating more students who are taking more credit hours. For five consecutive semesters, ICC has seen growing enrollments.
ICC also offers a wide variety of training and services that support employment and economic development initiatives. Our Professional Development Institute provides training for local businesses. A state workforce development grant has helped offset the cost of this training to enhance productivity and efficiency for the organization or business. State cutbacks may mean these grant dollars are no longer available. Our Career Center provides job search and resume preparation assistance, as well as a job bank service. Last year, more than 3,000 people in our community took advantage of our Career Center.
The ICC Economic Development Center, located with the Heartland Partnership, includes three entities. One is the ICC Self-Employment Training program, which helps entrepreneurs develop a business plan and learn the steps necessary to launch their own business. Second is the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which helps small businesses secure contracts with the government and larger corporations. This year alone, PTAC helped secure $7.6 million in contracts for area small businesses. The third is ICC’s Illinois Business Financial Services, which helps companies fund their small businesses and has a loan value of more than $3.2 million for 2003.
Our Adult Education program provides free GED preparation for citizens throughout the district so basic skills and lack of a high school equivalency aren’t barriers to gainful employment. Last year, more than 700 citizens took advantage of this program.
During times of economic difficulty, the community demands more from ICC. More students turn to the college for education, more citizens come to the college for help and support, and more businesses seek our services to navigate tough times. ICC is a major player in this community—44 percent of the high school students in our district who go to college choose ICC; our tuition is a fraction of the cost of four-year colleges and universities; 73 percent of our graduates choose to remain in central Illinois to contribute to our workforce and the economy of the greater Peoria area.
I realize the State of Illinois faces challenges in light of its current financial crisis. I also know the strong Illinois community college system carries a powerful economic stimulus—education, training, and economic development initiatives. ICC and our sister community colleges can be a part of the solution.
The governor should demand accountability and fiscal responsibility for all state agencies. ICC welcomes accountability and is proud of our long-standing tradition of providing an affordable, high quality, and accessible education to every citizen in our district who has the desire to learn. IBI