Canton Daily Ledger: Hare hears educational concerns from college spokesmen at SRC roundtable
"Education is not an expenditure, it's an investment."
With these words, 17th District Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) opened discussion in a Higher Education and Workforce Development Roundtable Friday, Feb. 23, in the Engle Hall Conference Center at Spoon River College.
"To be a good legislator you have to be a good listener," continued Hare. He added that money for community colleges such as Spoon River was a win/win situation, commenting that if money is not spent on higher education now, the country will be forced to spend more in the future.
Dr. Keith Miller, President of Black Hawk College, served as the facilitator of the roundtable. He also spoke to issues specific to community colleges. Also attending was Dr. Al Goldfarb, President of Western Illinois University, who addressed issues specific to universities.
Others taking part in the discussion were Dr. Steven Bahls, President of Augustana College; Thomas Schmidt, President of Carl Sandburg College; Greg Mangieri, Executive Director of the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association; Jim Nightingale, Mayor of Carthage; Dr. Bill Simpson, President of John Wood Community College; Xavier Romano, Vice President of Student Development and Dean of Students at Knox College; Roz Bruce, Special Assistant to he President for Govt. Affairs, Lincoln Land College; Dr. Mauri Ditzler, President of Monmouth College; Lisa Gregory, Executive Director of Marketing and Public Information, Richland Community College; Dr. George Mihel, President of Sauk Valley Community College; and Dr. Robert Ritschel, President of Spoon River College.
A number of recommendations and concerns were presented during the session, particularly in the area of funding for higher education.
Raising the Pell Grant maximum was strongly supported by the participants, who noted the program was essential to preserving access to postsecondary education for needy students.
Undergraduate students with financial need who have not earned a bachelor's degree may apply for a federal Pell Grant. Approximately 70 percent of recipients have family incomes of $20,000 or less. Each year, approximately two million community college students rely on Pell Grants to help with college costs, including tuition, books and equipment, and living expenses.
It was recommended Pell Grant maximums to be raised to $5,100.
Another recommendation was to appropriate $15. billion for the Perkins Basic State Grant program.
The Perkins program is the largest single source of federal support for community colleges, which use these funds to improve their career and technical education programs. Recent reauthorization of the Perkins Act is expected to make the program more effective, focusing on preparing students for high-wage and high-demand occupations.
Still other suggestions were to increase funding for the Community-Based Job Training Grants to $250 million, reauthorize the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act, and expand the Hope tax credit to cover non-tuition expenses.
Dr. Goldfarb said most discussion on education funding focuses on grades K-12, forgetting higher education. He expressed concern that the United States' importance in higher education seemed to be diminishing and noted that colleges were working to meet employer demands for workers who were not only knowledgeable about their jobs but who also had skills in oral and written communication and in team work, all of which were emphasized in community colleges and universities.
Among the concerns voiced during the session was the lower amount of funding for such groups as veterans and minorities, which means higher tuition costs for other students, and lack of infrastructure funding for such things as roads and public transportation. This would mean that higher education would become less affordable and less accessible for many students. Many community college students were being forced to cut down the number of hours taken each semester due to costs, which would lengthen the time they needed to obtain their degrees and get into the workforce.
Participants also noted having higher education institutions in a community increased its chance of attracting manufacturing and other jobs. This was not only due to the availability of a trained workforce, but also because of the availability of cultural and athletic opportunities afforded by these institutions which made communities more attractive.
The importance of colleges in the Midwest was deemed increasingly important because of the recent interest in renewable fuels and the increasing need for agricultural products. Such possible job opportunities would also increase the potential for students studying here to stay in the area rather than moving for better job opportunities.
Accountability in higher education was another topic of discussion, with several representatives noting they wanted input on how to effectively measure their ability to reach the goals of higher education.
Hare responded to the concerns aired at the roundtable by remarking things needed to change.
"We (Congress) cannot afford not to do something different," he said. "We desperately need funds for education. I'm tired of losing jobs. Manufacturers need a trained workforce."
Following the roundtable, Hare traveled to Lewistown High School to meet with Superintendent Bill King and members of the Lewistown school board. He was given a tour of the facilities and discussed district problems with such as unfunded mandates and the cost of keeping up the infrastructure. He also attended a special performance of the Lewistown High School "Tube Band," an experimental musical group of students under the direction of Clay Ginglen.