Parkland president discusses budget woes, faculty cuts
Illinois’ budget crisis has left its insidious mark on the state’s educational infrastructure, and Parkland—with its wave of cost-cutting measures as of late—is no exception.
In an effort to remedy the ever-decreasing flow of money owed by Springfield to Parkland, the college has made some tough and divisive decisions, namely reducing the size of its staff and hiking up the price of tuition.
Parkland has worked to downsize its faculty in the hope of offsetting its monetary melancholies. According to Tom Ramage, the college’s president, Parkland offered severance packages to all of its faculty and staff members.
“We had a voluntary separation program,” Ramage said. “We offered all employees…the ability to retire earlier than they thought that they might, or take a cash buyout—$25 thousand or 25 percent of their salary, whichever was greater—to voluntarily separate themselves from the institution.”
Eighteen Parkland faculty members took the administration up on its offer.
Thanks to the voluntary severance program, an involuntary reduction in force that would have affected nine employees did not have to come to fruition.
“That was the projected reduction in force,” Ramage said. “We didn’t end up having to do that, though.”
An email sent out college-wide by Ramage stated Parkland was losing 47 staff members, but that number wasn’t the amount of people involuntarily removed from the institution, nor the number of people who took part in the voluntary separation program.
“That 47 number is the total number of people that have departed the institution for any number of reasons—retirement, resignation, transferring into a different job that we didn’t replace…the one that they left…or voluntary separation,” Ramage said.
According to Ramage, the following disciplines of study have lost instructors through any of the aforementioned means: agriculture, collision repair, English, geography, health professions, natural sciences, and occupational therapy.
Despite the loss of several instructors, Ramage says the ability of Parkland to provide its services has not been impaired.
“No programs have closed, no programs have reduced the number of sections than they normally offer,” Ramage said. “No programs or services have been cut, to date.”
He also says the quality of education at Parkland has not been affected, even though experienced instructors—some with doctorates—have left the college, as the administration maintains an experience threshold that must be met or surpassed by every instructor.
“When we replace a faculty position, we ask for a minimum level of experience,” Ramage said.
He described a hypothetical case of hiring an instructor with a doctorate and 20 years of experience in teaching versus an instructor with a master’s and two years’ experience.
“It would be difficult for us to measure the actual difference in teaching outcomes between those people, because they teach differently…it’s not necessarily a direct correlation,” Ramage said.
Mainly, Ramage says the reduction in the amount of instructors might translate into longer waiting times to get into desired courses and larger class sizes, but describes these as “relatively minor things” compared to cutting whole programs.
In February, the college’s board of trustees voted to raise tuition 11.7 percent across the board. Starting next semester, the cost per credit hour for in-district students will be raised from $140.50 to $157—an increase of $16.50. This cost is the same for both on-campus and online courses.
Out-of-district Illinois residents and out-of-state and international students will be hit even harder. Since the amount they pay is already more than in-district students, that 11.7 percent hike translates to a proportionally larger cost increase.
In other words, out-of-state and international students will have to pay $529 per on-campus credit hour—a $29.50 increase from the previous semester.
Ramage understands the tuition increase may result in reduced number of students applying to Parkland, but says the college may actually see an increase in enrollment come this fall due to deeper financial issues at the state university level. Eastern Illinois University’s recent layoff of 198 staff members is a prime example.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll see an increase in enrollment in fall, not because of tuition but…that the university system seems to be stressed more than the community college system,” he said. “We may lose some students because the tuition has gone up more than they…can afford; that’s always a possibility when you raise tuition.”
Springfield currently owes Parkland roughly $6 million—$5.1 million in imbursement for general operating costs and another $924 thousand for the Monetary Award Program grants for the fall 2015 semester. Ramage says the college pulled money from its operational coffers to provide students with the MAP funds they had earned for that semester.
“That’s…administered by the state, and normally that money goes directly to students,” Ramage said. “We didn’t get any of those funds, but fronted operational dollars to students in the fall semester. So, that’s where I get that $924 thousand.”
He says as of now only nine percent of Parkland’s funding comes from the state, the rest coming from tuition and local property taxes.
Despite Illinois’ monetary woes and the effect it is reaping on Parkland’s budget, Ramage says even if the flow of money from Springfield stops, the home of the Cobras will persevere.
“Parkland will survive,” Ramage said. “We’ll always be here and the doors will be open.”