SIC Board Responds to Tighter Budget
The Southeastern Illinois College Board braved the winter weather and met in the Heritage Room on the main campus in Harrisburg Tuesday, Feb. 16, to take aggressive, yet conservative financial management actions to ensure a solid fiscal foundation in reaction to pandemic enrollment drops and diminished state funding.
The board eliminated multiple degrees and certificates, some with no students or low single enrollment, as well as three positions and endorsed massive changes to extra-curricular offerings to focus more on community.
Academic administrators noted, as an example regarding the art program, that the highest number of students that have completed a single studio art class since 2017 was only nine. No art studio class has ended a term with more than single digit enrollment for many years. Only one art appreciation class remained in the schedule.
Sara DeNeal, art instructor, spoke to the board and presented a petition signed by 1,067 people from in and out of the college district supporting the continuation of the art program.
The board also reviewed letters from both Julia Pfeiffer, retired longtime art director, and Barb Allen, SIC distinguished alumna and retired art instructor about the board’s difficult decision regarding the art program.
Pfeiffer said she understood “the current pandemic, several years of increasingly low enrollment, and budgetary decisions at the state level” contributed to the board’s decision.
Allen echoed a sentiment made by both former educators and SIC supporters: “Understanding the difficulty of your decisions, my sincere plea is that you and the trustees continue to closely monitor this situation concerning the loss of enrollment and state funding and bring art back.”
SIC President Dr. Jonah Rice said he appreciated their understanding and positive support and assured them and the board he would continue to monitor such possibilities. He also said he and several regional presidents are going to arrange a meeting with local state legislators to highlight the fiscal challenges of all regional colleges and urge lawmakers to support higher education as much as possible.
“If we don’t get state funding turned around for all of higher education, you will see more and more sad stories like these cuts this year and beyond,” Rice said. “The bleeding has to stop from decades of defunding.”
Additionally, business certificates and two business associate degrees had unsustainable enrollment with only three students completing those five credentials in 2020. The business transfer program will remain intact and still has solid enrollment.
A position in the library was also eliminated due to financial constraints.
Janean Bond, former employee and mother of the business teacher being reduced, spoke to the board. She suggested raising tuition and using COVID relief funds to pay salaries instead of eliminating employee positions.
“The drop in enrollment from the pandemic and the already declining population in our region coupled with shrinking revenue from the state forced us to adjust expenditures or face a deeper structural deficit that we simply can’t allow,” said Executive Dean of Administrative Services Lisa Hite.
Hite reported that per her consultation with accreditors and the college auditing firm, Kemper CPA Group, the college cannot risk a structural deficit or it could harm the college’s ability to bond and regulatory issues.
“We must balance the books,” Hite emphasized while explaining the pandemic’s effect on increased cost for supplies, insurance, and utilities. The increased minimum wage requirements will also have a significant impact.
The board received communication from the faculty union leadership team that included suggestions for cuts in various academic programs, as well as reduced overload for certain programs, and even the reduction of some faculty leadership roles.
“We appreciate working with the faculty association,” Rice said. “We continue to look at their suggestions.”
Administrators emphasized that mitigation efforts will continue as student enrollment forecasts even nationally show smaller enrollments at most colleges next year. It was also noted that the staff development day in early March will focus on recruiting techniques from successful faculty and staff.
To counter enrollment challenges, the board learned of multiple new programs for a variety of students.
The Accelerated College Experience (ACE) program is a competitive program to help high-achieving high school students prepare for higher education, regardless of where they plan to attend.
“We simply want to help them get the upper hand at scholarships, admissions, and test preparation,” said Dr. Tyler Billman.
The college is also working with many high schools regarding credit recovery programs for students who need summer high school credits due to challenges with remote learning – another hurdle for education triggered by the pandemic.
“This program is a great collaboration among local high schools and Southeastern,” said board member Richard Morgan. “This will really help students—and that’s what our mission is all about.”
The recently announced Fresh Start Scholarship program for a young adult workforce is turning out to be very popular, and spots are filling up. This scholarship opportunity is geared for the 25 and up adult who has been out of school and wants retraining. It provides a renewable six credit-hour tuition waiver for those who qualify.
Outside of the classroom, a re-engineering of many extra-curricular activities to focus more on local recruits in volleyball (replacing women’s basketball), golf, and theater, as well as a switch to competitive men’s club basketball should yield regional appeal and increased enrollment with more fiscal savings, say college officials.
“We’re excited by these new opportunities for students,” said board member Blake Bradley. “We hope to see more students stay here for these activities rather than go away for them.”
In personnel, the board approved a reduction in force of Katie Dusch, academic resource specialist; Kelsie Bond Rodman, business instructor; and Sara DeNeal, art instructor, at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 Academic Year. The board also approved the resignation of part-time textbook buyer/bookstore clerk, Janean Bond, effective Jan. 29, and the retirement of Deborah Conrad, assistant teacher in the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study, on March 19.
The board approved the evaluations for both tenure-eligible and tenure-track faculty members Jessi Wright, chemistry faculty, and Sessaly Davis, nursing faculty. Non-tenured faculty approved for re-employment include nursing instructors Amy Hicks and Sabrina Stout; Allison Edmond, biology instructor; theatre instructor Gareth York; cosmetology instructor Rachel Atkins; veterans and international student advisor John Corum; and distance learning specialist Ben Ross. Also approved were a number of adjunct faculty.
The next meeting of the board will be held Tuesday, March 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.