Oakton Community College to raise tuition, cut classes without adequate state funding

Renzo Downey, Reporter

Oakton Community College is cutting costs and raising tuition amid the Illinois budget impasse despite the emergency higher education appropriations signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on April 25.

Oakton, which has campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, is guaranteed to receive $1.4 million from the state, but the amount is much lower than the $4.5 million usually granted each ordinary fiscal year due to the ongoing Illinois budget crisis, college officials said.

As a result, the college has decided to raise tuition by 10 percent for the upcoming academic year and, if it does not receive more funding from the state, may increase the raise to 20 percent, Oakton vice chair Bill Stafford said.

“Quite honestly, that’s part of the difficulty in developing the budget,” said Oakton spokesman Paul Palian. “You want to be forthright and let students know what tuition is going to be in advance of the school year. … You’ve got to, for lack of a better word, hedge your bet.”

Still, only 7 percent of Oakton’s funding comes from the state compared to southern Illinois colleges that receive up to 40 percent, Stafford said.

Oakton benefits from Evanston’s property taxes, which help the college rely less on state funding, Palian said. He added that the college’s ability to support itself through other means may make it more attractive to prospective students.

“In the district we operate in, we’re fortunate to have taxpayer support,” Palian said. “That’s the difference between us and public universities that are state supported and don’t necessarily have the local property tax base.”

Oakton has also been getting by with the help of the Oakton Community College Educational Foundation, an organization that gives grants to Oakton students and that agreed to supply the school with $350,000 to cover students’ Monetary Award Program grants that have gone unfunded, Stafford said.

Although the aid eased students’ financial hardships for the first semester, Stafford said it is off the table if the budget impasse continues because asking for the Educational Foundation’s help was strictly “a one-time request.”

The college has also cut expenses, particularly in adult education, by reducing family literacy sites from three to one, cutting tutoring costs by 10 percent, decreasing professional development by 50 percent and lowering student-employee salaries by 20 percent, Stafford said.

In addition, he said Oakton has decided to eliminate 10 classes, leave less vital positions vacant, restrict travel and defer at least $1 million in capital purchases.

Ninety percent of the state’s budget is currently being funded by court order and continuing appropriations, but the $3.6 billion that is not appropriated is affecting higher education and human resources, state Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) said.

Gabel, who is on a committee attempting to pass temporary emergency funding for human services, said higher education was addressed first because Chicago State University risked closing its doors if it did not receive funds by April 28, when the state legislature would have been out of session.

A second bill for an additional $453 million toward higher education funding is currently going through the Senate.

Gabel said the budget committee has begun to meet again, an improvement from last year when the committee did not meet at all. The proposed budget is due at the end of the month, but Stafford remained skeptical, saying he has seen little action to move forward.

“There’s talk that they won’t pass a budget until next November’s election,” Stafford said. “I’ve heard things as drastic as that, so who knows.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @RenzoDowney