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Attention Springfield: Do Something Before It’s Too Late

A column by Southeastern Illinois College President Jonah Rice, Ph.D.


Illinois has been without a budget for two years and we’re looking at a minimum of one more, maybe even two additional years in a playground standoff that harms our great state.

In the last few years, I hear friends talk about how they can’t wait to get out of Illinois when they can retire.  Many choose not to wait for that milestone and pack their bags.  Those who are already gone chide our beloved state from across the borders.

Business owners talk about how they will leave Illinois because it’s such an unstable place.

Sadly, students are beginning to sing the same song due to uncertainty.

That’s the residual message in all of this.  Uncertainty.

Take higher education for instance.

As for Southeastern Illinois College, we have fared better than expected due to conservative fiscal management and great support from our community, but no college or university will weather well if the next 24 months are as dry as the previous 24 months.

Take for instance, the southernmost eight community colleges are around 40 percent dependent upon state funding due to a low tax base.  In SIC’s case, that base is in large part because of 1) our rural population and 2) the large tracts of Shawnee National Forest which cannot be taxed for institutional support.  (I’ve often wished for an oxygen surcharge for all that the trees produce, to no avail.)

Imagine 40 percent of your household or business income being swept away, for the most part, receiving only a penance of what you should get.

Imagine the tough choices that have to be made while protecting services.  Here’s a list of just some of the services that Southeastern provides:

·         Maintains the state’s and region’s top nursing program

·         Offers one of the best online college opportunities in the country

·         Sponsors the state championship speech and debate team

·         Provides training to great jobs in welding and diesel as well as quality transfer courses for those who wish to move on to a four-year degree

·         Produces a multitude of those who finish as lawyers, pharmacists, MDs, engineers, and teachers

·         Offers a nationally recognized biofuels program

·         Provides life-saving coal mine training

·         Hosts a nationally recognized archery team

·         Has maintained a Workforce and Small Business Development Center that has created and saved countless jobs

·         Boasts one of the best tuition rates in the tri-state region

And other community colleges do so much as well – for a fraction of the cost of a four-year institution.

According to Forbes Magazine (March 21, 2017), the price and quality of instruction at community colleges can’t be beat.  Plus, many jobs now only require two-year technical degrees and certificates that pay better than four-year degrees.

Recently, Time Magazine stated that the gap between salaries for people with only a high school diploma and a community college degree will only widen.  And the need is there, especially for technical jobs.

Nearly 50 percent of small businesses say they can’t find qualified applicants to fill open spots.  Community colleges help fill these jobs and could do more with reliable, sufficient state support.

If the state doesn’t pay us, we have to make cuts and look elsewhere to maintain services for our region to prosper.

Community colleges need to continue to train nurses to care for you and your loved ones and supply welders and mechanics to support local industry.  And community colleges provide the lowest tuition rates for students who don’t want to pay outrageous university tuition rates.

So, to sum up:

1.      The state is in an irreconcilable division beyond what is comprehensible

2.      Higher education is unfunded—again

3.      Our state is leaking people like a bucket without a bottom

4.      We in higher education have cut and cut and cut and have still managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

But enough is enough.

Do what’s right for the common good.  Find common ground.  Use common sense.

Do something before it’s too late.