Guest Commentary: Investing in a brighter future

Guest Commentary: Investing in a brighter future

By TOM RAMAGE

Two years ago, Parkland College began adjusting its expenses to reflect the impact of the state's budget uncertainties.

Illinois has gone 700-plus days without a budget. There have been eight state bond downgrades and the current bill backlog is $15,097,877,145.70 (as of June 15). The Illinois Community College System has been defunded by $441 million over the last two fiscal years.

Given this reality, our fiscal strategy has proven its value. Parkland is in a good place today. Our expenses and revenues are nearly in balance, and we are stabilizing into a new paradigm.

We will likely never see the previous level of investment from the state.

It isn't coming back, even after a budget is passed.

Pension costs will be shifted, property tax rates frozen, and there will be a continued reluctance to increase tuition rates.

This will cost public colleges and universities more than any restoration of credit hour grants and equalization can accommodate. Consequently, universities and colleges will continue to be stressed, cutting more programs and staff.

At Parkland, we have nearly finished a detailed financial review of our career programs, and the results are promising. Almost every program in the Health Professions division is showing net positive revenue, a significant turnaround from a decade ago.

Additionally, Parkland recently joined the statewide Career Consortium, which allows Illinois students to attend out-of-district community colleges for in-district tuition, in career-oriented programs that are not offered at their home college. This has already yielded an increase in applicants to several programs. We expect these areas to continue to grow.

Moving forward, Parkland College faces two options. We can shrink programs and services to the level our tuition and property tax income supports. Or, we can invest in a brighter future. I choose the latter. For starters, we will dramatically increase the number of certificates that we offer, laddered into our current degree programs. These certificates will help district residents strengthen their job skills, and will likely be cohort-based, perhaps offered in an evening and weekend format. We will also develop an afternoon/evening on-campus opportunity for dual credit students that may allow them to complete a general education package before they graduate from high school.

I intend to pursue a vigorous growth strategy. This will not be accomplished easily. We will need to invest in faculty. In some cases, we will need more equipment and space.

Work continues to identify programs that have both student demand and a positive balance sheet with the idea of doubling (or tripling) the size of that program or course. I have committed to staff and equip as appropriate for new growth in courses or programs in all areas of the college. I continue to work to find resources to support this strategic direction: enrollment growth in any area lifts all boats.

This is my commitment to you, the community members who support this great institution. We've turned the corner and the outlook is promising.

Tom Ramage is the president of Parkland College in Champaign.

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