Steve Balich Editors Note: When Government pays with grants and loans whatever cost the colleges deem necessary there is no check and balance to keep tuition down. The colleges have the understanding “if we raise it, they will pay” I personally don’t understand people being paid by taxpayers getting extremely good salaries, benefits, and time off while the people paying that (taxpayers) are in a subservient class. JJC is was the first Junior College and does a good job, but at what cost. How many hours to professors work to receive their salaries? I heard on the radio yesterday the average is 1 class per week. With no way to verify that as fact I narrow it down to asking Boards to look at salaries and the time put in to earn them. I ask Boards not to base salaries on what is paid to others in a similar position elsewhere because by doing that the bar is always on the increase. Professor x makes $150,000 at COD so to keep our professor or hire a new one at JJC we need to pay the same or more. Taxpayers want their representatives to represent them as if they were using their personal money and work to lower to bar costing less to the over taxed residents in the District.
On April 2, voters throughout Will County will choose from eight names to fill three spots on the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees.
The candidates – John “Jake” Mahalik of Joliet, Dan McDonnell of Morris, James A. Budzinski of Mokena, Christopher J. Rademacher of Shorewood, Thomas Scott McCullagh of Shorewood, Isiah “Ike” Williams Jr. of Joliet, Mike O’Connell of Shorewood and Nancy Garcia of Romeoville – are seeking six-year terms on the board.
Many of the candidates stressed the importance of keeping the college’s finances stable and continuing to make it an affordable and attractive option to ultimately increase enrollment.
The two incumbents, Mahalik and O’Connell, said during their tenure on the board, that they’ve tried to be fiscally responsible and enhance efficiency in a number of areas to save money.
The board approved a $95.7 million budget for fiscal 2019 with no tuition increases. It was the 46th consecutive year the college’s operating budget has been balanced.
JJC President Judy Mitchell said last summer that the college has had to continually adjust to keep costs stable, such as finding ways to improve energy efficiency, which has led to $400,000 in savings.
“A major key is that we’ve got to be fiscally responsible,” Mahalik said. “We make cuts, re-evaluate some positions. No one likes to raise tuition.”
Since the state budget crisis ended in 2017, JJC’s financial situation has stabilized, but the school still only receives about 7 percent of its funding from the state, while 54 percent comes from property taxes and 36 percent from tuition and fees. Originally, JJC was meant to be funded about equally among the three main sources of revenue.
“Nowadays, you don’t receive one-third, one-third, one-third,” Mahalik said.
That’s led to the board trying to find ways to become more self-reliant in raising revenue and saving money.
McCullagh and Williams said to help keep the finances stable, JJC needs to increase its enrollment. Williams said he doesn’t see a real plan right now from the college to attract more students.
According to data on JJC’s website, there was a slight net decrease in the total headcount of students from fall 2015 (14,944) to fall 2018 (14,726). This past fall, JJC had 4,685 full-time students and 10,041 part-time students.
McCullagh and Williams said they want to make investments in outreach and recruitment, and in order to pay for that, they’d be willing to look at reducing the number of programs and classes available to students. McCullagh said it would be worth reducing class options to help lower tuition and property taxes.
“They’re trying to pander to the student availability too much,” McCullagh said. “Sometimes the best answers aren’t the most popular ones.”
Garcia agreed that JJC should focus on increasing enrollment, and she also would be willing to offset added costs by potentially reducing programs. She said she favors focusing on fields such as technology, health care, mathematics and science, where qualified graduates are in demand for jobs.
Although McCullagh and Williams wouldn’t say specifically whether they would vote for faculty salary increases in future labor agreements, McCullagh said he didn’t think Mitchell’s salary was commensurate with the lack of growing enrollment. She makes more than $200,000, and the board recently extended her contract and gave her a 3 percent raise during each of the next three fiscal years.
O’Connell defended Mitchell’s salary and said it was in the median range with other Chicago-area community college presidents.
“I kind of feel like we have a bargain there,” O’Connell said. “She’s really good.”
O’Connell, who first was elected a decade ago, said that there are areas he’d like to see more investment in to increase enrollment. Ideally, he’d like to see a campus built in the Frankfort or New Lenox area to attract students in the eastern part of the county, but financially, O’Connell said, JJC isn’t in a position to do that. He said the college has been investing in movie and TV advertisements and partnerships with local high schools.
Still, O’Connell said there are some administrative areas he thinks are overstaffed, although he wouldn’t go into specifics. He also said he’d like to focus more on successful programs, such as nursing, in which 95 percent of JJC graduates find jobs in the field.
“We can’t be offering programs that there’s not a need for,” O’Connell said. “We have to keep up with the changing world.”