QUINCY -- The four candidates vying for three open seats on the John Wood Community College Board of Trustees are all emphasizing the importance of fiscal restraint as the state budget impasse continues to affect higher education.
Incumbents Larry Fischer and Diane Ary, plus write-in candidates Bob Rhea and Orville Jones, also feel finding creative ways to combat the lack of state support will be equally important.
The three open seats are all for six-year terms.
Fischer, first elected in 2011, is finishing up his initial term as a trustee. Ary is seeking her first full term after completing the final two years of former trustee Dene Lambkin's tenure. Lambkin resigned in 2015 for personal reasons.
"We will need to continue our strategic and budget planning in order to become as lean as we can, without causing a detrimental impact on our students and the programs," Ary said. "We need to explore more giving models and look for ways to capitalize on opportunities to engage donors and generate more funds.
"Unfortunately, we may need to increase the tuition cost per hour, and associated fees."
By design, the state is to supply one-third of funding for each of the 48 community colleges in Illinois. In fiscal 2012, the college received close to $3.1 million from the state. In fiscal 2016, the figure had fallen to just under $344,000.
Over the last four fiscal years, JWCC has reduced its budget by $1.4 million. Most of that figure has come in the last two years when the college put a freeze on open positions, furloughed some employees at different times, eliminated a couple of programs, reduced travel costs, delayed equipment purchases and deferred maintenance projects.
Fischer believes the same kind of focus JWCC officials have shown during the state budget crisis will need to continue for the foreseeable future.
"The college, with a dedicated and focused commitment to best management practices, has successfully managed the organization through some really tough times during the past few years," Fischer said.
Jones said the creation of alumni, business and institutional endowments would help in the wake of the ongoing financial crisis.
"The challenge is to find more innovative and creative ways to restore our support base," Jones said.
Jones also suggests seeking alternative funding (grants and specialized funding sources) for particular course offerings.
Rhea said the restoration of state funding would be welcome, but the college must plan for less from that resource and more from the local region.
"The benefit should be more local control," Rhea said. "The lack of state revenue does increase financial risk, reduces opportunities for expansion and puts greater pressure on staff and administration.
"Continued due diligence on cost of programs versus benefits for students, identifying real costs of education delivery, and multi-year financial planning can help make the best of this challenging environment."
Adding to the mix is a projected decline in enrollment and credit hours. Tuition and accompanying costs now account for the majority of JWCC revenue.
JWCC attracts 31 percent of high school graduates in the region who attend college, but the number of graduates continues to decline due to a falling population, especially in rural areas. Most of John Wood's district is rural, covering all or parts of nine counties and 14 school districts.
Unemployment rates are also the lowest since the recession of nearly 10 years ago. Low unemployment rates have an adverse effect on enrollment. At the height of the recession, enrollment at JWCC was about 2,500. It is expected to dip below 1,900 for the 2017-18 academic year.