Last month I discussed the formula that structures how much community colleges like ICC receive in reimbursement from the state, based on the kind of classes they offer. The bottom line is the state provides more money for certain types of classes and less for others. In addition to paying different rates for different types of classes, Illinois also uses an equalization formula to ensure all community colleges throughout the state can remain viable and that access for community college students is ensured.

The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) explains equalization this way:

"Equalization grants attempt to reduce the disparity in local funds available per student among districts. A state average of equalized assessed valuations per full-time equivalent student, multiplied by a weighted average local tax rate, determines an amount of expected local tax revenues per student. Any community college district that is below this amount when applying a standard tax rate to its equalized assessed valuation per full-time equivalent student receives additional state funding."

The equalization formula helps maintain a primary tenet of community colleges. This tenet is that any student willing to learn should be able to access quality post-secondary education. Areas of the state have very different assessed valuations of property. While many of the wealthy districts of the Chicago area have an ample tax base to support their community colleges, districts in very rural or poor areas don't. Yet the need for an accessible and affordable college education is even greater for areas like these. When the legislature of the State of Illinois initiated the community college concept, it realized part of the commitment of the Community College Act was to find ways to truly make a college education available for all citizens of the state. Equalization grants go a long way in helping the state achieve this objective.

Like many downstate community colleges, Illinois Central College benefits from equalization grants. About 9 percent of ICC's funding from the state results from the equalization formula. Some community colleges get more, others get less, and still others get no equalization funds. Last year, there was talk in the capitol that perhaps the equalization formula might no longer be appropriate. But the statistics on the impact of equalization demonstrated it was an important factor in keeping college education affordable for students throughout the state.

Why should you care about equalization? As a citizen of this district, you benefit from equalization in several ways. First of all, equalization means ICC can keep tuition rates moderately low while continuing to offer an excellent education. Second, the equalization rate provides monies for our community college that would otherwise have to be raised through local taxes or increased tuition. Third, equalization means students across the state have the opportunity to get a college education. In this knowledge-based economy, a well-trained, well-educated workforce is essential to improving the economic health of the state. Equalization provides a significant contribution to making accessible education for all a reality in our state.

There may come a time when the state challenges the equalization formula again. But as long as community colleges strive for accessibility and as long as some regions are rich and others are poor, equalization is a necessary part of the funding mix for community colleges in Illinois. IBI