Budget impasse hits Parkland College

By Ashni Ghandi

The state budget impasse is proving increasingly troublesome for the Parkland College faculty, staff and student body, and the college’s theater department may be experiencing the negative effects first.

With $566,989 cut from the budget and 46 faculty positions eliminated, Parkland has been forced to eliminate some programs and employees in the process.

The budget deadlock has affected Parkland’s student body the most, said Cedric Jones, who formerly attended Parkland and was the Parkland student body president. Jones said that budget cuts are even more detrimental at the community college level than to four-year universities with a larger tuition revenue.

He said that students are noticing the changes due to the lack of a budget firsthand as college departments are forced to make cuts due to the limited amount of money.

“The theater department typically awards scholarships,” Jones said. “Because of the lack of funding, the theater department is going to have a hard time issuing out these scholarships, and we might not have a theater program next year.”

The future for the program cannot be determined, as the budget impasse looms. But funding for the theater department — which serves as a hub for theater in the community — was cut by $5,000 from $200,000, forcing them to cut one production for this year. 

Kyle A. Thomas, a member of the part-time faculty at Parkland and a graduate student in theater at the University, said in an email that the cuts to the theater program were made in an effort to reduce spending.

“Because Parkland College has not received the promised financial support from the state, one area that the administration has targeted as a way to keep the budget balanced is our theatre productions,” Thomas said. “Our budget for producing theatre as a part of our educational mission has been virtually eliminated.”

However, the impact of the lack of a budget has reached beyond the theater department. Edgar Fuentes, a sophomore at Parkland studying surgical technology, has also seen a change at Parkland.

“I know I have (been affected directly) because some of the classes that are offered in the morning will no longer be offered at that time,” he said. “This is due to professors leaving and not being replaced.”

Fuentes said his biology professor told the class he might be retiring sooner than desired after 10 years of working at the college. Fuentes said his professor told the class that the more teachers who retire or leave, the better off the school is.

Jones said there is a noticeable strain placed on students due to a reduction in programs, schedule changes, staff shortages and an increase in student tuition.

For example, Monetary Award Program grant funding has not been allocated by the state, in turn forcing Parkland to scale back how many grants it issues. The grants were originally issued to help students from low income families receive higher education. Students who are looking at community college to save money, find that a relatively high tuition counters that benefit.

Thomas said Parkland has had to raise the cost of tuition by nearly 12 percent for the 2016-2017 academic year.

“That will put technical skill training and the possibility of earning a college degree out of financial range for the people in our community who need it most. As universities and colleges across the state look to tighten their budgetary belts — and as scholarships and grants promised by the state continue to go unfunded — it will be the students that suffer most.”

If an agreement on the budget is not reached soon, it could result in a bigger impact on the University.

The state budget impasse directly affects higher education within state borders, Thomas said. Limiting opportunities and higher education in the state creates a “brain-drain,” deterring researchers and scholars from taking opportunities in Illinois.

“If a decision to provide the promised funds to institutions of higher learning in this state is not reached soon in Springfield, all of the issues now facing the smaller schools like Parkland will find their ways into budget considerations of the larger institutions like the University of Illinois,” Thomas said.

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Updated correction: This article previously referred to the possible closure of Parkland College’s Theater Department, which is inaccurate. Most recently, the program was cut by $5,000 from the program’s $200,000 funds received, which is only 2.5 percent. The piece improperly referred to the cuts as being a quarter. The piece also did not accurate represent Cedric Jones as the former student body president at Parkland, the error has since been corrected. The Daily Illini regrets these errors.