ECC Works to Maintain Student Success in Spite of Budget Crisis

Casey McCartin and Vanessa Passo

For the 2016 semester, Elgin Community College has faced a six dollar tuition increase due to recent budget cuts. The school has only received 27 percent of what they received last year from the state. Ultimately, over the last 18 months, the school has (not yet fully) received 65 percent of what they have received since the last fiscal year of 2015. Due to the low percentage of what the school is receiving from the state, many adjustments were made to accommodate the change in funds.

With the recent budget cuts ECC has endured, the primary objective of the school remains the same: minimal impact on student success. President of ECC, David Sam highly emphasizes the success and focus of his students, even dealing with difficulties a budget cut could entail.

“That has been the primary objective of the board; that whatever we do regarding the budget, we make sure we have as less an impact on student success as possible,” says Sam. “All the steps we’ve taken have been done in careful consideration on the impact of students, to keep [the impact] very minimum, if not visible at all.”

No extreme cuts are necessarily going to be made in terms of daily student activity. .

“Student success is always in the forefront of our minds,” said Sam. “Funding is always in question…it’s uncharted territory for everyone but we always want our focus to remain on our students.”

One of the changes made to accommodate the budget change include a hiring freeze. Contrary to popular belief, a hiring freeze does not mean that ECC will not be hiring anyone. The college recently had to hire a new Associate Dean of College Readiness and School Partnerships as the previous one has retired.

“A hiring freeze means that we are looking strategically at what [the school] has to do. This particular position deals with working with high schools, directly with high schools, to make sure that students can come from high schools to this place,” said Sam. “So if we don’t fill it we have closed the avenue for helping students make a transition to the college and then in that case not only are you losing money from the state but you are losing money from students who come here and enrollment then will go down.”

The morale of the faculty of ECC is constantly being worked on to the best of their ability during this time.

“It’s a challenge when you lose that kind of money from the state,” said Sam. “It’s a challenge that all colleges are facing in this day…We are all on the same page on one thing…that students believe that when they come here, they can achieve their goals. So now withstanding the challenges that we face, our faculty and staff are still motivated to help.”

Although the college is facing difficult times with the budget crisis, Sam assures students that the new changes will not affect the classes offered at ECC.

“The focus is what happens in the classroom. We are not laying off any teachers and we continue to work hard in that direction,” said Sam.

ECC Finance Controller Heather Scholl works toward making sure the school is prepared for the budget crisis this semester.

“Zero-based budgeting has helped us a lot,” said Scholl. “We take that budget then we take all of the expenses that the budget officers anticipate and then we project out what we think we’re going to receive in revenue and we compare the two and if they don’t match we either have to adjust tuition or we need to go back to the budget officers and ask them to make some hard decisions on where they think they can make cuts with the least impact on students.”

Some of these cuts include limiting out of state travel and internal food at meetings. ECC is also now locked into a five year utilities contract in an effort to save more money.

“The administrators who also ordinarily received the same salary increases as others in the college gave up their projected increase and that has saved us about $449,000,” said Sam.

The zero-based budgeting technique has helped the college prepare for possible changes in the state budget and adjust accordingly.

“We’ve been using zero-based budgeting for about five years now and I think that the timing of it has been really good because that’s when we’ve had the decline in state revenue ,” said Scholl. “So that’s helped us really prioritize where we’re putting our money.”

Student Body President Jesus O. Martinez assures students that the budget crisis should not really have an affect on the activities offered by Student Life on campus.

“Our budget comes from the students. When a student pays his credits a part of that is allocated to Student Life,” said Martinez. “So from all the students a [part] of those credit hours comes to Student Life and that then is allocated to the clubs.”

Specifically, one dollar per certified credit hour is allocated into the Student Life fund.

There are still some partial setbacks from the budget crisis that takes a minimal toll on Student Life.

“Even though we have money, we need to spend it wisely,” said Martinez. “The most I think is that we’re training [clubs] to use their money wisely. They still do the same things, they still do the same events, or if they are trying to get incentives for students to join their clubs they still have that. It’s just a reminder to use their money wisely.”