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Spring Enrollment Down Sharply at Heartland Community College

Exterior of Heartland campus
Carleigh Gray

Heartland Community College is reporting a sharp decline in enrollment, especially among new students. 

Enrollment in that category was down 32% on the first day of the spring term compared with this time last year. Heartland enrollment head Sarah Diel-Hunt said the community college experienced similarly low numbers in the fall, when the pandemic delayed plans for many first-time students. 

“We’re still seeing large numbers of new students are holding out and they’re simply choosing to not come to the college at this time,” she said Tuesday night at the HCC board of trustees meeting. 

Enrollment among black students also fell steeply, to 29.8% over last year. 

Total enrollment for the spring term is down 18.3% while average credit hours are down 17.9%. Diel-Hunt said she expects those numbers to improve with enrollment in late session courses. Heartland has added additional 12- and 8-week sessions for students who may be seeking a delayed start date. 

Heartland isn’t alone in seeing declining numbers of students this spring. Diel-Hunt said community colleges throughout Illinois are all “feeling the same pinch” in terms of enrollment, likely due to complications presented by the pandemic.

Heartland was also dealt a devastating setback in the fall when a cyber attack delayed the spring enrollment process by more than two weeks. Not only did the college lose critical time in registering students, when operations finally came back on line, changes in the enrollment process led to delays and confusion. 

“So we truly hit kind of a two-headed monster last fall,” Diel-Hunt said. 

Still, she’s optimistic for a recovery in Fall 2021, when Heartland is planning to offer a “robust” schedule of in-person classes.

Heartland plans to stick with its primarily online schedule through spring in an effort to provide consistency for students and staff. 

Associate enrollment head Amy Pawlik said though it was “sometimes tempting” to expand to more in-person offerings as COVID restrictions lessen, Heartland would “hold the line” through spring. 

CARES funding and bond sales

Heartland will receive $4.7 million in COVID relief from second round of CARES funding. It received $2 million in the spring that has since been spent. 

HCC President Keith Cornille told the board $1.1 million of the new funding will go directly to financial assistance for students. The rest will be used to offset the financial impacts of the pandemic. 

Also Tuesday, the board voted to approve the issue of $10.35 million in funding bonds that will pay off taxable bonds the district issued previously. 

Cornille described the move as part of Heartland’s long-term financial plan.

Innovative classrooms project

The board also approved a pilot project that will see two existing classrooms transformed into more “innovative” spaces.

Vice President of Academic Affairs Traci Von Prooyen said Heartland has spent five years researching ways to better foster collaborative learning through both low- and hi-tech solutions in the classroom. 

The pilot spaces will incorporate sharable technology options like screencasting as well as traditional white boards. Seating will be designed for easy configuration to accommodate small or large group learning. 

Board member Thomas Whitt said the modernized classrooms sounded like a welcome departure from the “dry lectures” he endured as a student in the '80s. 

Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.