Joliet Junior College officials are continuing to look for ways to maintain fiscal responsibility while developing more opportunities for students in an effort to increase enrollment.
“It’s a constant battle,” said Jake Mahalik, the secretary of the JJC Board of Trustees.
Despite having to weather the state budget crisis from 2015 to 2017, JJC President Judy Mitchell emphasized the college’s efforts in remaining financially stable, especially after passing a balanced budget for the 47th year in a row in 2019.
After raising its tuition by $19 a credit hour in 2017, mostly because of the lack of state funding during that time, the college was able to refund its students more than $2 million for that increase.
“We’ve been very proactive,” she said. “Year after year we’ve been looking at cost-cutting measures.”
Between 2017 and 2019, JJC was able to save nearly $1 million through position realignments, repurposing or eliminating unneeded positions.
Bob Wunderlich, chairman of the JJC Board of Trustees, said much of that savings was attributed to doing simple things such as installing automatic lights that turn off when people leave the room.
Still, Mitchell added that when it came to financial decisions on personnel, it was always difficult.
“It’s their jobs,” she said. “It’s their livelihoods.”
In a summary of the fiscal 2020 budget, JJC said it was not expecting growth in enrollment and that there would be no increase in tuition. Still, over the past several years, enrollment has dropped from its high in fiscal 2011.
While the college will see preliminary enrollment numbers for its fall 2019 semester soon, the total student headcount for the 2018 fall semester was 14,726, with a full-time equivalent enrollment of 8,150 students.
JJC officials attribute the drop in enrollment to a better economy and young people deciding to join the workforce.
“A lot of them are going back because you can make a good buck doing that,” Wunderlich said.
Wunderlich said that other community colleges were also seeing challenges in growing enrollment, but with such a large and diverse district of more than 700,000 people, he said the opportunities for growth are there.
He said school leadership has also aimed to accommodate the needs of students of color, especially with the growing Latino population, which made up 28% of the enrollment in 2018. Racial and ethnic minorities made up 42% of the student enrollment in 2018.
The consensus among school officials is that there are myriad opportunities to grow and attract students. Mitchell said she’ll get ideas on how to grow through conversations with mayors, school superintendents and employers throughout the district.
As an example, at JJC’s north campus in Romeoville, Mitchell said JJC has been developing programs with a business and entrepreneurial focus.
Mitchell said that might mean classes at that campus may need to fit a more flexible schedule for working students. In fact, JJC will soon host a grand opening of an adult reentry center at the Romeoville campus.
Then, in the eastern part of the district, Mitchell said she’s heard from employers in technology fields who are looking to hire qualified students with the proper skill set. She said to provide for that workforce, JJC has invested in growing its career and technical education programs to prepare students for well-paying jobs.
“Sometimes you’ll hear from people that we can’t be everything to everyone,” Mitchell said.
“Well,” she said, “at Joliet Junior College we have to be everything to everyone.”