Heartland Community College To Pursue $23 Million Ag Building
Heartland Community College is moving ahead with a proposal for a $23.4 million agriculture building — the first major item from the college's new strategic plan. Trustees have signed off on a state request for money to pay for the nearly 30,000-square-foot structure, plus greenhouse and hoop house.
Heartland President Keith Cornille said the college could choose other funding options, including a public private partnership, fundraising, or bonding if state capital dollars do not materialize. Cornille hopes to have funding options explored by late fall or early winter that will let trustees decide how to go forward, adding Heartland is looking at a two-year construction process.
Current enrollment in Heartland ag programs is small, about 40 students. But Cornille said ag-related jobs were one of the top three areas of workforce development for the region, based on an HCC study.
"Agriculture is a huge part of who we are. All of the indicators pointed to that. There is significant need here in the Midwest, especially in the area of precision agriculture, agribusiness, general agronomy, and regenerative agriculture as well," said Cornille.
He said Heartland is being very careful to avoid duplicating ag programs at the University of Illinois and Illinois State universities and to expand areas that can feed Heartland students into those programs.
Heartland already plans to start certificate programs during the fall semester in the several areas Cornille mentioned. He said those will grow agriculture-related enrollment to about 200 students, and potentially much more based on workforce needs. Other existing certificate programs could be converted into associate degree programs, including ag mechanics, animal science, food science, and horticulture to further stimulate enrollment.
"In 2019, Illinois had the most agriculture-related job listings, totaling over 4,000, compared to the rest of the United States," according to the trustees packet that also cited a McLean County Economic Development Council report, noting four of the top employers in McLean County have ties to agriculture: one in manufacturing, one in chemical, pesticide, and fertilizer, the final two in input retail, cooperative, and related services.
Cornille also noted there remains a lot of feeder programs at high schools in the region. Twelve of the fifteen in-district public high schools have active agriculture programs and are actively involved in the National FFA Organization, according to briefing papers for the trustees.