Due to the impact of the state budget crisis and subsequent lack of community college funding, the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees voted at their Dec. 13 meeting to approve the 2016 tax levy and not reduce the debt service as they have in past years.
This marks the first time trustees have not reduced the debt service levy since 2009.
The college has reduced the debt service levy by a total of $12.8 million to district taxpayers over the last seven years. The effect of not reducing the debt service levy in 2016 equals an increase on the average homeowner’s tax bill of just under $5.
Board Chairman Bob Wunderlich stated the college has shifted quickly to respond to the state’s fiscal issues but is at a critical juncture.
“We have continued to do our part during this difficult financial time–we’ve cut over $2 million from our operating budget over four years. We have developed creative revenue sources–actively seeking additional grants, for example–to offset operational costs. We have restricted travel, we’ve closed our Small Business Development Center, we have not filled vacant positions,” Wunderlich said.
“These are incredibly difficult decisions and we face them head on each year. It’s increasingly difficult to maintain quality education and affordability for all with the persisting financial challenges stemming from the lack of a state budget.”
Issues with the state budget have also impacted MAP funding for students. JJC has fronted MAP funds totaling over $1 million for over 1,000 students for two consecutive semesters—Fall 2015 and Spring 2016. However, the college could not continue to support this initiative for Fall 2016.
Despite increasing financial burdens from diminishing state grants the college has managed to retain low tuition rates and even increased its enrollment numbers for the fall 2016 semester. The college increased its student retention rate by 1.3 percent, and the number of new JJC students increased by 7.8 percent for the fall 2016 semester. JJC was one of only two peer colleges in the region to report an increase in enrollment.
JJC President Dr. Judy Mitchell said the enrollment figures are promising, and that is due in part to the investments the college has made in infrastructure and enrollment management planning over the last five to 10 years.
“In order to maintain a quality learning environment and opportunities for students it’s important that we make investments in our programming and facilities,” Dr. Mitchell said. “We are at a point now that if we continue to make cuts it will absolutely impact the quality of services, and perhaps even the programming we offer.”
The college’s budget is supported by three major sources: tuition, state funding, and property taxes. Currently ten percent of the college’s budget is derived from state funding. In fiscal year 2000, state funding represented 18.7 percent of the college’s budget.
“I hope that this serves as a call-to-action to those who live in our district,” Wunderlich said. “We need to continue advocating for our local resources. We want our taxpayers to understand how the State’s continued fiscal crisis impacts local resources like the college.”