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Reshaping Higher Education – SIC Board Focuses on the ‘New Normal’

The Southeastern Illinois College Board of Trustees met Tuesday night in the Rodney J. Brenner Board Room to discuss many positives of the college in the ‘new normal’ of higher education in Illinois.

More high school students chose to attend SIC than last year, but the drop in the 20-25 demographic is the most dramatic.  In a 24-month period, SIC has only lost two percent of headcount, a plus when looking at the trend data in the region.

Officials reported many college activities that help attract students to SIC, such as the recent STEM Day where over 120 high school students learned about science and math careers.  Additionally, theatre, music, and dual credit recruitment are working well to demonstrate the value and quality of the college.  Career and technical education spotlight days at the college also yield strong recruiting.

And officials note that SIC has more national championships than most could claim in the region, including the recent addition of the Women’s Bow Hunter Team, winning the national championship for the third time in the history of the program.

“I attended the event and it was a really nice competition.  It was quality,” said board member David Dennison.

SIC hosts the national competition at Sahara Woods in a partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the US Intercollegiate Archery Championships.

“We compete at the Division I level against colleges like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Liberty, and University of California,” said President Jonah Rice, Ph.D.  “The team and coaches are amazing.”

Workforce and career training, including firearms and coal mine training, are also flourishing making the college a valuable asset to the region.

“We have great staff who make these things happen,” said Rice.

While the college continues to provide quality education with one of the state’s best value tuition rates, college officials discussed the condition of higher education in Illinois.

“Yesterday is dead; and it’s never coming back.  I can’t be more blunt than that,” said Rice.  “I listen to my friends and colleagues say, ‘I remember when …’ and, ‘We use to…’ but those days are simply gone.  I miss them too, but they are gone.”

Rice quoted SIU President Randy Dunn’s speech given just a day before the SIC Board meeting.

“Dr. Dunn was spot on when he said that Illinois has moved away from viewing higher education as a public good and more of an economic investment for the state.”

Rice noted that this paradigm shift is a difficult adoption for some people, and in the wake of the current budget crisis and huge impact it is having on public educational institutions, some people may not grasp the reality of the crisis.

He asked Karla Lewis, the SIC Education Association (faculty union) president, if she thought employees understood the severity of the crisis.

“I think some people are in denial,” Lewis noted.

Rice said he planned on special meetings with campus constituents to discuss the road ahead.

“We will always be here for our students, but we will continue to evolve and change.  That is the new normal,” said Rice.

Executive Dean of Business Affairs David Wright said after the meeting that reserves to cover the state’s shortfalls will last only so long and the college will have to prepare to withstand this political stalemate in Springfield.

 Wright reported that in 1965, the state reimbursed a transfer credit hour at $11.50.  In 2016, that rate is $6.27.

“In fifty years, Illinois has cut their investment in education in half,” said Rice.  “And I’m not even factoring in inflation in over fifty years.  It’s really quite disturbing when you consider that, too.”

The board also heard that the regional consortium of colleges, the Southern Illinois Collegiate Common Marketplace, will meet one more time next week to see if a new model can be forged to save the organization.

Recent data was analyzed, including a legal review, and a more cost effective, balanced model must be created or officials predict the organization may fold.  Alternatives for students are being investigated if the organization dissipates.

“There are several options that we are currently reviewing to continue to serve students in our district,” said Dr. Karen Weiss, Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The board also took action on several policy revisions in light of recent legislation and passed multiple curriculum changes, including modifications of hours in game management courses and in the outdoor recreation certificate.

In personnel, the board accepted the resignation of Emily Henson, financial aid director, approved the termination of the food service assistant, approved the transfer of Shirley Malone to the position of full-time food service assistant, and approved the employment of several adjunct instructors.

The next meeting of the board will be Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Rodney J. Brenner Board Room at SIC.