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Heartland VPs: Enrollment Down, Financial Footing 'Solid'

Heartland building exterior
Heartland Community College in Normal is scheduled to receive roughly $2 million in relief from the federal CARES Act, with half intended for student assistance and half for institutional aid.

While summer and fall enrollments at Heartland Community College are down about 20%, administrators believe those numbers may improve and the college remains financially sound.

Doug Minter, HCC’s vice president of business services, discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during Tuesday’s online Board of Trustees meeting. He said increased expenditures and projected lost revenue have cost the college $700,000 over the last month and he expects that number to rise.

But he believes years of effective financial management have the institution “well-positioned to ride out any storm.”

“I’m very pleased to say that the financial footing of the college is solid,” said Minter. “We have financial reserves available to see this out and operations, all things considered, are continuing to function pretty normally.”

Sarah Diel-Hunt, vice president of enrollment and student services, acknowledged an 18% decline in summer registration from last year and a 20% decline in fall enrollment. She said the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis coinciding with the fall registration period resulted in hesitancy.

But positive indicators such as increases in applications and new student appointments suggest a potential enrollment recovery. Diel-Hunt noted some concerns about the pandemic might actually work in Heartland’s favor.

“Right now what we’re starting to see in the latest trend is a lot of calls coming into our admissions office with parents and students who were going to other four-year colleges and universities and are now contemplating staying home,” she said.

Planning Through Volatility

The annual presentation of a strategic budget that normally happens in April ahead of the June fiscal year budget presentation was pushed back to May. Minter said volatility with a number of variables such as tuition revenue, state funding and local support prompted the delay.

“We need to wait another 30 days here to let things continue to evolve so we can be in a better position to present a better informed strategic budget next month and still produce a tentative budget the following month,” he said.

Heartland is scheduled to receive roughly $2 million in relief from the federal CARES Act, with half intended for student assistance and half for institutional aid. HCC President Keith Cornille said the administration is still finalizing plans for how to distribute the funds.

Minter said there are no plans to start slashing the budget in an attempt to reduce the financial sting from COVID-19.

“We’re going to make our decisions based on the long-term benefit of the college, the students, and the employees we serve,” he said. “There’s no need for quick, hatchet decisions by any stretch of the imagination. We’re going to be very deliberate in assessing the circumstances and maintaining the continuity of operations.”

Minter, who has worked at Heartland since 1991, is leaving the college effective May 15 to take a similar position at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove. Cornille said the college will fill the vacancy on an interim basis while conducting a national search for Minter’s replacement.

Cornille praised the Heartland staff and community as “nothing short of spectacular” in the face of the pandemic. He said there is no timetable yet for reopening the facilities to faculty and students.

“We do not know when we will return back to campus, though we do know that it will not be until it is safe for all of us to do so,” he said. 

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.