CRYSTAL LAKE – After passing a flat tax levy, the McHenry County College Board of Trustees could raise tuition and fees to help close the gap between revenue and expenditures.
The decision to hold the levy flat – resulting in an estimated $27.9 million in revenue – could cost the college roughly $545,000, depending on new growth. Money from reserves or tuition and fee increases would be needed to make up the deficit.
Robert Tenuta, chief financial officer for the college, said McHenry County College tuition ranks as the 24th lowest in the state with prices at $102 per credit hour compared to the $112.75 per credit hour state average.
The maximum the college could charge is $131.15, but Tenuta has proposed a 5 percent increase and an infrastructure fee to help cover the $41 million in deferred maintenance the college carries.
Deferred maintenance is the chief concern for college president Vicky Smith, who said only $6 million of the $41 million in deferred maintenance has been addressed in the last three years. College officials had laid out a 10-year plan to complete the work.
But the fund designated for maintenance costs receives 75 percent of its revenue from property taxes and 25 percent from tuition and fees, meaning the college will remain in a deficit regardless of the increase.
“If we were to increase the tuition and fees to where it would close the gap, it would be astronomically high,” Smith said. “It still won’t be enough.”
Compounding the problem is the health and science building the college is looking to build. The project, expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, has no funding source.
Board chairman Ron Parrish asked if there was a sensitivity point in increasing tuition that would cause enrollment to decrease, but Tenuta said there is no clear point that shows that tuition causes students to leave.
“There is no defining point where the enrollment would drop,” Tenuta said. “The demand for education is inelastic. It doesn’t respond to a rise in tuition.”
Still, trustee Tom Wilbeck asked what the worst-case scenario would be if the board decided to also hold tuition and fees flat as it did with the levy. Trustee Mary Miller quickly opposed the notion and said forcing the college to make further cuts would be harmful.
Trustee Cynthia Kisser said the board was in a no-win situation.
“Every time we raise tuition, it is just as hot button of an issue as when we raise the levy,” she said.
Trustee Chris Jenner blasted the cost of college and said he wanted to see the college stay affordable enough to be a gateway to a university. He said he saw no reason to put money toward unfunded mandates because the state could not cut funding for programs it does not fund in the first place and added employee benefits were unsustainable and not enough programs were being phased out.
“College costs are out of control,” he said.
Tuition and fee proposals will likely be presented at the January meeting as they must be finalized by February.