IVCC trustee candidates forum draws overflow crowd

8 candidates split on boosting enrollment, diversity

Eight candidates are vying for three seats in the April 4 election on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby. Candidates gathered at the forum are (from left) Crystal Loughran, Teresa Schmidt, Julie Ajster, Bill Hunt, Jay McCracken, Angie Stevenson, Lori Ganey, and Rebecca Donna.

An eight-way race for three seats on Illinois Valley Community College Board of Trustees will be one of the area’s hottest races – judging from the turnout Wednesday at a candidates forum.

College officials set aside a meeting room with capacity for 100 but that wasn’t enough to accommodate students and voters. Many of those left standing were diverted into the auditorium to view the forum via livestream.

The 90 minutes allotted yielded answers to five questions and two yielded notably divergent views, one pragmatic (enrollment) and one ideological (diversity).

Regarding enrollment, incumbent trustee Angie Stevenson trumpeted the college’s 9% uptick – “We as a board froze tuition for the sixth year in a row” – while other candidates said the college needed to fill seats in IVCC classrooms, even as they disagreed as to how.

Lori Ganey, a mother of five who pledged to be the voice of “blue collar workers,” said while IVCC’s tuition was competitive she would push for tuition relief.

“When you graduate, it’s a house payment, it’s a car payment,” Ganey said.

Others argued for more face-to-face outreach at the high schools and the community at large.

Rebecca Donna is a retired forensics and criminal justice instructor at IVCC who visits area high schools not only to discuss her field but also to promote the college and, “it helped a lot.”

Julie Ajster, an attorney with a solo practice in Peru, said there is a need for more direct outreach not only to prospective students but to professionals like her who graduated from IVCC and are willing to promote the college and its offerings.

“I’ve never been contacted about being a mentor,” Ajster said.

Others argued for reevaluating the college’s marketing strategy, saying there was room for digital outreach.

“Our younger students live in the electronic world,” said incumbent Bill Hunt, who retired from stints in the government (the U.S. Treasury Department, Cook County Sheriff) and private sector, “they’re not looking for fliers in the mail.”

“Many of our students live in social media whether we like it or not,” agreed Jay McCracken, a career educator and incumbent vice chairman of the board, “and we need to grow our marketing program through social media.”

And two candidates running as a slate, Crystal Loughran and Teresa Schmidt, said IVCC needs to boost IVCC’s offerings and improve quality, an issue that shows up in student feedback.

“Students are filling out surveys and saying they’re not satisfied with what’s happening in the high school,” said Schmidt, who farms south of Mendota following a long career in accounting.

A question about diversity also drew divergent responses and, at times, audience reaction.

Loughran, a career educator with experience in Illinois and Colorado, called the diversity issue “a loaded question” and “sometimes I feel it runs parallel with critical race theory.”

She said the board’s focus should be on pressing issues such as the closing of the Peru hospital and assisting students as they seek proximate jobs in health care. Schmidt agreed the board’s focus should be on education, first and foremost.

Ganey said her views were shaped by “a homophobic mother” and “transgender daughter,” now deceased, “and I vowed I would never ever treat people like that,” Ganey said, drawing applause. She added later everyone “deserves the same opportunity, deserves the same chance.”

“I want everybody to feel welcome and safe,” Stevenson said. “Hate has no place.”