Parkland budget crisis leads Board of Trustees to cut scholarships

Sarah Powers

Staff Writer

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

The Parkland College Board of Trustees called their first meeting of 2016 to order. The D Wing conference room bustled with energy on Jan. 20, as community members and other Parkland leaders took their seats in a small section dedicated for public attendance.

As a first time attendee at a Parkland Board of Trustees meeting, I was surprised at the turnout for additional audience members. However, the reason for extra attendance soon became apparent when silence waved across the room as Assistant to the President Nancy Willamon announced tuition waivers as next item on the agenda.

As most Illinois residents are aware, the $150 billion state deficit continues grow, putting backbreaking stress upon the shoulders of public higher education institutions.

This stress, growing incrementally from as far back as the 1980s,which was the last time most institutions had received their full 33 percent of operating funds from the state, has thrown some difficult decisions into the laps of administration officials as they scratch their heads at the glaring multi-million dollar hole in the present budget.

In 2002, Parkland was provided nearly 22 percent of its funding by the state—a number that has dropped below ten percent in recent years. As 2015 huffed and puffed against the brick foundation, it has fallen even further, all the way down to zero. Yet, Parkland still stands, thanks to a hefty emergency savings account. But, now the piggy bank is shattered, and there is not enough glue to put it back together.

Larger schools, such as the University of Illinois or Illinois State University, with vast alumni networks and healthy foundations, have been able to weather the budget battle with little damage. At smaller schools, like Parkland, where enrollment has trended downward in recent years, the pain is more pronounced.

Enrollment declines at Parkland, undoubtedly influenced by the statewide elimination of the MAP grant for low-income students, was a big blow. However, Parkland did step up, financing it all at the cost of almost a million dollars. That did not happen again this semester.

“This is the worst it’s ever been, at least in the community college system’s 50-year history,” said Parkland College President Tom Ramage in an interview with The News-Gazette last November. “This is the worst budget year ever.”

To counteract this problem, Ramage recently proposed the elimination of financial aid grants for more than 1,000 students, continued vacancy for more than 20 faculty and staff positions, and suspension of two athletic programs and almost $500,000 of tuition waivers.

To all of this, there has been little defense from the board, other than a ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’ face, hands raised in the air.

Last Wednesday, everyone finally got their hands dirty.

The board discussed, and passed, the motion to reduce KY-17 tuition waivers, which includes theater and music students, by 50 percent and completely eliminate international student scholarships.

It’s not as bad as it seems, however.

The international student scholarship waiver only effects a maximum of five, second-year, high-merit students that are awarded the difference between out of district and in district tuition: about $359 per credit hour.

There is still debate about eliminating the Board of Trustees Scholarship, suspending two of Parkland’s eight spring sports, and cuts or furloughs in all areas of the college. No matter how it’s done, $1.5 to $2 million in budget cuts need to be implemented immediately at Parkland.

As the public session of the board meeting came to a close, I think everyone felt a little piece of the tremendous weight Parkland feels presently. When everything is laid out so blatantly, it is easy get lost in the negative, but what we really need to concentrate on and celebrate is the simple fact that Parkland is still around. Many other schools in the state are in a much dire of a situation that we are.

After all, Parkland has her 50th birthday this year. We can cry if we want to, but somehow I do not think I will see much of that happening.