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Smith: Striking a balance of quality, efficiency at MCC

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

McHenry County College has succeeded in weathering the economic challenges present over the past few years by being financially responsible while maintaining quality academic programs that result in student success.

The college has focused on smart planning and budgeting to ensure that we meet short-term and long-term needs.

Traditionally, the college has three revenue sources from which the budget is built: state aid, student tuition and fees, and local tax support. Since MCC is a people-based operation, the biggest part of our expenditure budget, over 71 percent, is salaries and benefits for our employees.

The college continues to innovate by identifying ways to do more with fewer fiscal and physical resources. Faced with declining state support and increases in fixed costs and contractual obligations, our strategic decisions have reduced costs and increased efficiencies while maintaining quality and initiating needed academic programs in the manufacturing, health and technology fields. To accomplish these innovations, the college over the past two years – through prudent planning – has realized savings and efficiencies totaling over $2.5 million.

The college has increased fiscal savings and efficiencies through a variety of activities, including revamping print management system (saving $382,000), outsourcing grounds maintenance ($132,000) and custodial services ($675,961), implementing computer desktop visualization ($138,000), negotiating better leases for computers and software ($177,000), renegotiating the cost of our debt service ($89,000), adopting a new online learning management system ($196,500), and installing energy-saving systems and locked in pricing for gas and electricity ($329,000).

Such savings and efficiencies were critical so that the college could put those savings toward new academic programs, repairing infrastructure and increasing the quality of educational activities. The college also has focused on the writing of and receipt of grants to fund academic program start-up costs, programs for student success, cost coverage of energy efficiency equipment, and implementation of our sustainability initiatives. MCC has received over $1.4 million in grants to fund these efforts.

In addition to fiscal savings and efficiencies, MCC has leveraged partnerships to ensure that the college can meet its mission: Our focus is learning; student success is our goal. Our partnerships with the high school districts include scheduling dual credit, college-level courses in the high schools so that high school students can graduate from high school with a high school diploma and several college credits at once.

The partnership involves sharing high school laboratory facilities in culinary management and computer numerical control. During the day, the high school teaches classes, and in the evening, the college teaches college classes. We also have partnerships with businesses, where we bring classes to their place of business, and the business allows us to use space and for their employees to take the class on-site.

Even with our fiscal challenges, MCC continues to focus on helping students learn and succeed. Our efforts at improving the quality and learning of students have been successful. Over the past three years, we have increased the number of students who are retained from semester to semester. That is important, since the more students you retain, the greater chance they have of attaining their certificate or degree.

Our student success rate also has increased over the past three years, indicating that more students are doing well. That is the result of our excellent teaching faculty and the high-level student academic support services available to our students.

Further evidence of MCC’s educational quality was reported through a recent Northern Illinois University study, showing that MCC transfer students’ average annual grade-point average at NIU was 3.032, higher than NIU native students (2.858) and other northern Illinois community colleges’ students (2.943).

More wonderful news came recently when MCC was notified that we were in the top 150 of the over-1,000 community colleges in the country, and eligible to compete for the 2015 Aspen Prize from the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. MCC was selected to compete because of the Institute’s assessment of our institutional performance, improvement and equity on student retention and completion.

This is further evidence that the college’s attention to fiscal responsibility while improving the quality of our educational programs is being recognized.

• Vicky Smith is president of McHenry County College.

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