‘I think the school is going to be stronger at the end of this’ Lincoln Trail College weighs in on budget impact

Lincoln Trail Community College (WTHI Photo)

ROBINSON, Ill. (WTHI) – Lincoln Trail Community College prides itself on being one of the best.

“We’re still hitting our learning outcomes, we’re still growing, we’re the number two ranked community college in the state of Illinois,” said President Ryan Gower.

The success doesn’t come without challenges. Gower says they’re doing all they can even with little help from the state and its lack of budget.

“Demoralizing is one of the words and it’s frustrating that we’ve got this gridlock that’s happening in Springfield,” he said, “I think right-minded people can look and say it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you sit on, there’s blame to be shared everywhere. I think we just want it to get fixed.”

For institutions like Lincoln Trail, Gower says they relied heavily on state aid.

“If you look and you go back five years ago, state aid was the biggest portion of our budget,” he said, “and what’s happening right now is we’re getting about 26 percent of the money that the state owes us every year, and if you look at the percentage of state aid it has continued to decrease and that really only leaves one other option and that means the percentage of the students that are shouldering themselves is increasing.”

It’s what Gower calls the perfect storm. With finances tightening in the state, he says there’s also a decline in the student population.

“We can either sit back and manage the decline or we can grow,” Gower said, “and at Lincoln Trail, we’re trying to go for aggressive growth.”

Despite the circumstances, Gower says they’ll manage to avoid raising tuition for next year. They haven’t closed any programs, instead, they’re trying to find ways to add more.

“We’ve got a program in sport management that we’re launching in the fall,” he said, “That’s also a program we know there’s a lot of community interest in, does not require a lot of startup dollars. We’ve also got a certificate in health and wellness that we’ll be starting in the fall.”

The college is also interested in adding an HVAC program (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning Technology).

“We know there’s a community interest, there’s a need for it,” he said, “There’s large startup funds that are required to start that program. Due to the lack of budget, we just don’t have the money to start a program like that.”

It’s a tough time for the state of Illinois, but Gower is accepting the challenge and turning it into opportunity.

“Circumstances like this force you to look inward, to reevaluate who you are, what we do and I think the school is going to be stronger at the end of this than we were going in,” he said.