McHenry County College student representatives voice support for tuition increase

CRYSTAL LAKE – Student space is the top wish students said they have for McHenry County College, the student representative to the college's board said.

But Robert Tenuta, the college's chief financial officer and treasurer, said his concern is meeting the obligations the college already has.

The college's Board of Trustees is considering a tuition increase and a new infrastructure fee, which would be earmarked for the long list of deferred maintenance and would help offset a projected deficit. The vote is scheduled for its Feb. 26 meeting.

Five student government representatives spoke at the Tuesday meeting, four of them in favor of the tuition increase, noting the college's tuition is on the low end compared to other Illinois community colleges and the infrastructure work that needs to be done.

The break-even point would be a $5 tuition increase and a new $5 infrastructure fee, Tenuta said, adding the lower numbers are based on new information coming from the state.

The college had originally been warned to expect as much as a 30 percent reduction in general state aid, but now that number may be closer to 20 percent, he said. The difference would be about $270,000.

"The state is stiffing us," Trustee Chris Jenner of Cary said, adding that a tuition increase is letting the state off the hook but said as he is a general supporter of user fees, he would grudgingly accept a small increase.

Several of the trustees were leaning toward the $5 tuition increase and $5 infrastructure fee by the end of the meeting despite some having voiced initial objections to raising tuition.

Board Vice Chair Linda Liddell of Crystal Lake emphasized that while she was OK with the increase, she wanted to see a committee put together that would go out into the community and develop partnerships that would fund particular projects, perhaps new student space.

While tackling the deferred maintenance with an infrastructure fee made sense to board Secretary Molly Walsh of Crystal Lake, she said the college could absorb some of the projected deficit by keeping certain costs like travel and conferences flat.

But Trustee Cynthia Kisser of Wonder Lake said she didn't see trimming the budget as an option, adding she thinks the college has already been cutting its fat and that going any further would impact the college's quality.

The college's chief executive, President Vicky Smith, also raised concerns about dipping too much into the college's fund balance, a move that could affect its financial health and credit ratings.

The board just last month approved a fund balance policy that would kick in when the college's non-earmarked savings fell below four months worth of expenses.