Dr. House Op Ed Featured in the Southern Illinoisan
March 26, 2019
The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going. It is true for institutions as well. In this season of spirited campaigning and social media discussions directed toward the future of John A. Logan College, it seems appropriate to reflect on where the College has been and where it is going.
In January 2016, just two months after the President left the College, it became clear that the State was going to play political games with the budget for higher education. As a result, 55 employees were laid off in March. It was an extremely hard time, to say the least, for the College. The layoffs were a result of the College being at least 8 million dollars in debt with no way to escape the financial problems. 35 of the 55 were faculty, of which, 26 were tenured. The College was also on conditional recognition from the State resulting from misreported credit hours during previous years. As a result of these errors, the State required the College to return 1.7 million dollars that was received incorrectly. To complicate the situation further, enrollment was declining at an alarming rate. Enrollment declines are common statewide and locally, but it compounded the financial position of the College even more. Because of all these issues and the numerous complications that go with them, the College was in a low state.
Perhaps the greatest concern of all was that the College was preparing for a 10-year recertification from the Higher Learning Commission which accredits colleges and universities. Without HLC accreditation, the College cannot continue to operate. The previous accreditation was particularly hard on the College regarding the relationship between the Board of Trustees and the staff as well as a nepotism issue that permeated the institution.
To address these major concerns, the administration in cooperation with the Board of Trustees, along with faculty and staff, initiated a plan to turn the College around based on balancing the budget, treating faculty and staff fairly, stabilizing enrollment, regaining State recognition and attaining an additional 10 years of accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The first task was to get a grip on the budget. In the spring of 2016, the College was at least 8 million dollars in the red with no hope of getting any State money. As a matter of fact, no State money was received between July 2015 and June 2017, a 23 month period. Every person, faculty and staff, conserved every cent possible on every expenditure. Faculty and staff were laid off. Austerity was the rule. In addition, a long range plan for redirecting College resources was implemented. As a result, today, the College will have a balanced budget by the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2019). Not only is the budget balanced, but the College has approximately 11 million dollars in reserve along with a 7.5 million dollar working cash fund. From a financial standpoint, the College is stable, which is a great position to be in. In addition, the John A. Logan College Foundation’s Endowment Fund has increased by almost 3 million dollars since 2016. This increase is an indication of the confidence the public has in the College.
Not only did the College have a moral obligation to bring back tenured faculty but a legal responsibility as well. To this end, the Board and Administration systematically brought back faculty and staff as the finances improved. All tenured faculty that wanted to come back have been recalled, as well as, some non-tenured faculty.
For the past several semesters, enrollment at Logan has been approximately 4000 students. Total head count is much higher. On average, total registrations (credit and non-credit) are approximately 13,000. This stabilization has resulted from a concerted effort to increase the dual credit enrollment (high school students taking college courses) which is approximately 1000. More than 50% of high school graduates in our district come to John A. Logan. The College has also increased on-line courses with an enrollment of approximately 3000 (a duplicated count). We have also started a new agriculture program and continue to increase enrollment in popular programs like Cyber Security and all areas of technical, career and vocational programs. Enrollment has stabilized from these efforts; however, we continue to work diligently to increase our enrollment.
State recognition and accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission is critical to the status and future of the College. Higher Learning Commission accreditation is the gold standard for higher education institutions. Without this stamp of approval, Colleges are ineligible for grant funds and essentially cannot operate. Recognition by the Illinois Community College is also critical to receive State money and grants. Full recognition was lost in 2014 as a result of inappropriately submitting credit hours that did not qualify for State reimbursement. Full recognition was regained in the spring of 2016. The Higher Learning Commission on-site review resulted in the College being fully accredited until 2027 and was the best HLC recommendation the College ever received.
The College has made tremendous progress from the spring of 2016 until now. If the State follows through with their promise of a better budget for higher education, even more progress and more educational opportunities will be provided to the citizens of the John A. Logan College district in the future. Some of the major accomplishments achieved since the budget disaster of 2016 are listed below:
- The College regained full recognition from the Illinois Community College Board.
- The College received approval from the Department of Homeland Security and Defense as a Center of Excellence. Only one other College in Illinois has received this designation.
- Logan’s Heating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program was selected as one of the top 20 programs in the country.
- Logan’s on-line nursing program was selected as one of the 20 top online programs in the country. Logan is one of two Colleges in Illinois in this category.
- Logan’s Dual Credit program (high school students taking college courses) was accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. Only one other program in Illinois has this accreditation. Over 50% of high school graduates in the district come to Logan.
- Logan’s Cyber Security program has become nationally recognized.
- Logan’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter was selected as one of the top 100 chapters in the country. There are over 1300 chapters nationwide.
- Logan, in cooperation with Southern Illinois Healthcare, opened a public Walk-In Clinic in the Logan Fitness Center.
- The College received a 10-year accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission with the best report ever received by the College.
- The College stabilized the budget and finances and established an operating reserve of 11 million dollars.
- Logan’s associate degree nursing program will be accredited in the fall of 2019 by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
There are many other individual, programmatic, and College accomplishments that have been attained, but the list above reflects substantial institutional achievement requiring a high level of commitment and institutional effort.
The future of the College is bright. New programs are on the horizon. Relations with Southern Illinois University are very positive. The future for developing cooperative programs with our neighboring institution is extremely positive. Enrollment is stable, finances are solid and our programs are outstanding. Why would you go anywhere else!