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SIC Freezes Tuition, Engages COVID-Related Fiscal Mitigations

January 21, 2021

The Southeastern Illinois College Board met in the Heritage Room on the main campus in Harrisburg Tuesday, Jan. 19, to freeze tuition for students and discuss fiscal management strategies in anticipation of state reductions and fewer tuition dollars due to smaller enrollment from the aftermath of the pandemic.

Board member and local principal Blake Bradley said he was glad to freeze tuition for struggling students.

“While revenue is down, we simply can’t just pass that on to students,” Bradley said.

Board member and retired superintendent Richard Morgan echoed Bradley’s remark.

“So many of our students have struggled during the pandemic and we have to be sensitive to their needs,” said Morgan.

Executive Dean of Administrative Services Lisa Hite praised the board’s stance on the tuition freeze.

Hite said that the college will remain on sound fiscal ground even due to smaller enrollment and the unreliability of state funding during the pandemic and economic stress.

“Mitigation strategies to reduce expenses and increase enrollment must be engaged for the future,” said Hite.

President Dr. Jonah Rice said unless changes are made, a structural deficit would result.

Morgan emphasized that no one wants to make difficult choices, but the board has to ensure a bright tomorrow for top programs like pre-med, engineering, nursing, welding, speech team, theater, and so many other state and national successes at SIC.

Members of SICEA staff and community as well as two students spoke to the board about upcoming reductions in force and elimination of some certificate and degree programs in Art and Business as well as extra-curricular opportunities.

Members read letters and emphasized the need for curriculum and urged the Board to avoid cuts if possible.

Due to drops in enrollment over a multi-year period as well as low completion rates, the college plans to eliminate a full-time business position, art position, and a position in the library.

The college had other personnel reductions last summer in the midst of the pandemic, including some administrative and clerical positions.

“Enrollment patterns coupled with the downturn in tuition revenue and the state’s disinvestment in higher education make them necessary,” said Vice President Dr. Karen Weiss.

Multiple certificates and a few degrees will be eliminated.

While one business position will be eliminated, a full-time SICEA faculty will remain to teach the existing business curriculum. Art numbers have diminished on campus leading to a reduction, but students may access the statewide curriculum sharing partnerships to continue art education pursuits.

“That’s the beauty of how the Illinois Community College System works together to serve students through sharing structures like the ILCCO [Illinois Community Colleges Online] network,” said Rice.

ILCCO is a distance-learning, course-sharing master agreement among Illinois community colleges.

“It’s like our Spanish curriculum that other colleges have eliminated. They get that from SIC. Now, our students can take art like others do Spanish here,” added Dr. Tyler Billman, Executive Dean of Academic Affairs. “Students can still be served.”

President Rice stressed that the state has, over his 12-plus years in office, underfunded their support for colleges.

“When you add the prospect of continued disinvestment with the downturn in enrollment colleges in the country have seen, change is inevitable for the good of the institution. No one takes joy in making difficult decisions, but colleges and universities must transform themselves in this new frontier or they will get left behind,” he added.

The board reimagined extra-curricular activities at the college, charging the administration to eliminate women’s Division I basketball and add women’s Division II volleyball, moving men’s basketball from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) to National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA), the fastest growing intercollegiate club basketball league in the nation, and adding men’s Division II golf, among other moves.

Such changes combine reductions, eliminations, additions, and shifts in many activities that have been studied for a few years.

“These changes are more fiscally responsible for community colleges, meet the needs of our local and regional students, as well as tap into the sports demographic trends in the rest of the country to help retain and recruit a larger number of students in a more fiscally responsible manner,” said Rice. “Our successful models with coed bowling and national championship archery teams have demonstrated that more local and regional students will stay in the area when they are given the opportunity to play the sports and activities they love.”

For example, the bowling team had nearly 30 full-time students on the roster beginning this academic year, with mostly all southern Illinois students from in- and out-of-district taking classes in a variety of subjects and majors.

“That activity helps multiple programs with enrollment.”

“Local recruitment will be a significant focus for the program changes,” said Executive Dean of Student Services Dr. Chad Flannery.

Flannery said that ESPN reports more girls play high school volleyball than basketball, and the gap has grown by over 70,000 players between the two sports with volleyball being the most popular in recent years.

Community member and local senior athlete/weightlifting champion Jerry King spoke to the board about the benefits of such a move, including more local recruitment and fiscal savings for the college.

The board did not have a closed session.

In personnel, several adjunct faculty were approved.

The next meeting of the board will be held Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. in the Heritage Room on the SIC Harrisburg campus. More information about SIC can be found at www.sic.edu.

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