HARRISBURG — The Southeastern Illinois College Board of Trustees voted at its regular meeting last week to eliminate several degrees, inactivate the art program and lay off three staff members.
During the board's regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 16, the college's president cited low enrollment in the degree programs that were eliminated, as well as an expected 25% decline in the college's total enrollment next year, along with a projected budget deficit of $6 million over the next two years.
The board unanimously approved inactivation of all art courses and eliminated the Business Management AAS, Administrative Assistant AAS, Word Processing Certificate, Accounting Certificate, Business Management Certificate, Associates in Fine Arts (AFA) and AFA in Musical Theatre.
During a discussion on personnel, the board approved layoffs of an academic resource specialist, a business instructor and art instructor. The layoffs are effective at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year.
During the public comment period at the beginning of the Feb. 16 meeting, SIC art instructor Sara DeNeal — whose position the board voted to eliminate — presented a petition that she and her students put together. The petition was signed by 1,067 people, including alumni, who support the art program at the college.
She asked the board to consider the mission and vision of the college. Its mission is to enhance lifelong learning by providing quality accessible educational programs, cultural enrichment opportunities, and support for economic development; and its vision is to be the catalyst for academic excellence, community service, and economic growth in the community.
DeNeal talked about the importance of imagination and problem-solving in the workplace today and said art helps teach students those skills.
“SIC needs a visual arts program,” DeNeal said.
Janean Bond, an alumna and part-time employee of SIC, asked why the board chose to freeze tuition in January with the projected deficits in the college’s budget. SIC, at $106 per hour, has one of the lowest tuition rates in the state, she said. She said tuition could be raised to $109 per hour and still be below other community colleges in the region.
Bond also questioned the board on its practice of approving reductions in force for instructional positions, then hiring administrative personnel at the same meeting.
Dr. Jonah Rice, president of SIC, told the board that two positions in administration were being frozen and the public information officer would not be replaced.
“If you want a story in the paper, you’ll probably have to write it yourself,” he said.
Rice said community colleges have not been fully funded for decades. In 1995, about 60% of SIC’s budget was provided by the state. Currently, about 35% of the college’s funding comes from the state.
The college also faces an additional $1 million in costs, before adding any of the costs from the pandemic.
“Over a 48-month period, we expect to be $6 million in the hole,” Rice said. “Next year will be worse.”
Rice said they also expect to see about a 25% decrease in student enrollment.
To put things into perspective, Rice said, tennis player Roger Federer made $106 million in 2020. That amount would fund SIC for 35 years without state funding.
The board reviewed the enrollment numbers for courses being cut. For example, Painting 1 has five students this year, and had two in 2020, seven in 2018 and 2016, and five in 2014. Painting 2, the second-year class, has one student this year, and had two in 2020, three in 2018, four in 2016 and two in 2014.
The business degrees only had five students enrolled in five degree and certificate courses in fiscal year 2020. The business classes required to transfer to a four-year program will remain.
DeNeal said a large rally had been planned to support the art and business programs, but the frigid temperatures and several inches of snow that hit Southern Illinois last week deterred many who planned to participate. Classes and all activities were canceled for the college on Tuesday. The board meeting was the only college activity that was conducted as planned.
The board’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 16 in the Heritage Room on the SIC campus.