© 2023 WGLT
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Heartland Community College board candidates push outreach to boost nontraditional enrollment

Heartland Community College board candidates
Emily Bollinger
Heartland Community College board candidates, from left, Cecelia Long, Mary Campbell and Dave Selzer participated in a WGLT open house March 22 at Illinois State University.

The three candidates running for Heartland Community College's board don't have any real issues with how the college is run. They say the only problem is not enough people know about all the classes and training programs the college offers.

The Heartland Community College Board of Trustees has two open seats on the ballot for the April 4 election, with two incumbents and one challenger running. The terms are for six years.

Former Illinois State University professor Mary Campbell is seeking a second term, while former Heartland staff member Cecelia Long has served on the community college's board since she was elected two years ago to fill a board vacancy after Gregg Chadwick died.

The third candidate is Dave Selzer. He's retired after several jobs in the nonprofit sector. He also served two stints on the McLean County Board as a Republican. Even though he's challenging two incumbents, Selzer said he's not running against anyone else or against the school. He believes the college is doing well, and said he's running because he sees the value of service, especially in education.

“I was looking for what I’d like to do at this next juncture of my life. Really education is important to me, so I thought Heartland is a great asset we have and that’s where I am looking to get involved in,” Selzer said.

Campbell spent her career in education. She was a professor in social work at ISU for 30 years. She was first elected to the Heartland board in 2017. In 2019, Campbell opened a free job training site for women in west Bloomington called Dreams are Possible. The goal is to prepare women to land an apprenticeship in the building trades.

“Women without much education, they tend to defer to men in conversations and in training. So, we try to have it just for women. They learn about skills. They learn about using tools,” said Campbell, adding the women also learn about job-training programs offered at Heartland.

That's one area where Heartland Community College has grown in recent years and has helped combat the drop in enrollment many two-year schools have encountered. Campbell noted the average Heartland student is 23 years old.

Campbell said she wants to see Heartland do more to recruit nontraditional college students.

“We really as a community need those individuals who can make a living wage, do an important job and can benefit themselves and their families and well as the community at large,” said Campbell, adding she also wants to see the college do more outreach to women and people of color.

Long started at Heartland as an intern, then worked at the college full time, helping students with issues like housing, childcare, transportation and mental health.

Long now does social work for Prairie State Legal Services, a nonprofit that helps people who are facing eviction and other legal issues. She thinks her time as an employee at Heartland gives her a unique perspective as a board member, and considers herself a voice for the college's faculty and staff.

The college has about 685 full and part-time employees and instructors.

“I was thinking about how some of our voices, the staff people that I worked with didn’t always feel like they are always heard by upper leadership and I think that’s across the board for most organizations,” Long said.

Long said she wants to see better pay for Heartland staff and she'd like to see part-time and temporary positions that involve direct service to students be made permanent.

Long said Heartland staff has done more community outreach, including parades and neighborhood block parties, and that's helped the college increase its minority student population to 30%. She wants to see the college do more of that to attract students in under-served areas.

“I would say I’m really passionate about accessibility for education and for students like myself, being a first-generation student, I know how important it is to have those opportunities and resources available to you,” she said.

Campbell said a key form of community outreach for Heartland has been taking some of its job training to the Western Avenue Community Center in west Bloomington.

“Just like ISU, even Heartland is a scary place for people who maybe aren’t familiar with the school system, had a difficult time when they were in school,” Campbell said. “If you take the program out to them and they are comfortable with it, then you take them onto campus as a tour. You bring people from campus out to them.”

Selzer said he appreciates the creative thinking behind dual credit courses that Heartland students can take while still in high school. He said the job training also makes the college a good community partner because it's helping to fill manufacturing jobs that are in high demand.

“When I was on the county board, we made promises to (electric automaker) Rivian, to (agriculture manufacturer) Brandt (Industries), to other businesses about our workforce, and Heartland is a key part of us having workers for those businesses that we attract to our community,” Selzer said.

He said Heartland's continuing education courses also a hidden gem, adding more robust marketing would hopefully bring in more students and keep the tax rate as low as possible.

“People’s burden at all levels of taxation is getting a little out of control,” Selzer said. “I just mean that from the sales tax to property tax, it’s not a partisan feeling, it’s just one that we need to make sure to show people’s return on what they are giving us.”

Selzer said one way the college can keep the cost down is through scholarships, noting he has helped raised money for student scholarships in the past.

Heartland has maintained a level property tax rate for years. The college recently approved an $8 per credit hour tuition increase.

Campbell said the college remains on good financial footing and she credits the college's foundation and its grant writers for securing money for student scholarships.

Heartland has about $21 million in reserves, according to staff. That's enough to cover about seven months of expenses. In 2020, the Heartland board set a policy for how much the college should keep in reserves. That $21 million is almost as high as its reserves can go, in comparison to the overall budget.

Long said the college's savings helped it weather the COVID pandemic without layoffs, but she doesn't want that piggy bank to get too big if workers could be paid more.

“I think that’s going to be an ongoing conversation. I don’t think that our savings should ever come at the cost of providing adequate pay for our employees,” said Long, adding for now, the college has found the right balance.

Early voting is underway.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
Related Content