Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.
You will have the opportunity to vote for two people for Parkland Board of Trustees, each for six year terms. The Parkland Board helps “provide local control and direction for the college” according to their website.
Bianca Green is an incumbent running to maintain her position on the board.
Smile Politely: What have you accomplished as a Parkland Board member? Why should community members keep you in that position?
Bianca Green: It has been an honor serving on the Board of Trustees since being appointed in 2015. I was elected to retain my seat in 2017 and I have continued to focus my time and attention on learning what it takes to run a first class community college. I understand the need to balance the interests of our students, faculty and staff with fiscal responsibility that will ensure the future success of the college. Shortly after I joined the board, Parkland began to experience an unprecedented lack of state funding. My fellow trustees and I worked closely with the administration to manage these financial challenges and although it has not been easy, we have been able to balance the budget over the past three years despite these funding concerns. Parkland is in good shape as a result of these decisions. I hope to continue volunteering my time and talents toward the goal of maintaining Parkland’s national reputation for excellence.
SP: What are the three biggest challenges facing Parkland College right now?
- Securing and maintaining adequate state funding remains our biggest challenge. The community college system was created on the premise that it would be equally funded from three distinct revenue sources: state funding, local property taxes and tuition and fees paid by our students. When revenue from one of the three sources goes down, it puts tremendous pressure on the other two. In 2007, Parkland received 30% of its funding from the State of Illinois. This year we only expect to receive 9% of our funding from the state.
- Increasing enrollment while we are in the midst of a national trend of declining enrollment at community colleges is an ongoing concern. Enrollment in community colleges is often driven by the economy. When the economy suffers a down-turn, community college enrollment increases. Thus, we must continue to focus our efforts on increasing enrollment in educational areas that are less dependent upon the rise and fall of the national economy.
- Finding a way to respond to the demands of local employers by identifying and reaching more students who will benefit from enrolling in our career and technical programs continues to be a challenge. We have the programming in place but we must do a better job of highlighting the exceptional careers waiting for students who complete certificates and degrees in these areas.
SP: How does Parkland prepare for the future as the student body becomes more diverse, as technology advances, etc.?
Green: Parkland currently serves students from 26 different public high schools and provides
educational opportunities for the citizens of more than 66 communities located within District #505. We are more diverse than ever with our student body representing more than 40 different countries. We currently offer more than 130 degree and certificate programs at Parkland. Determining how to best serve our current and future student populations is an ongoing collaborative effort. Members of the Administration work closely with our faculty members and students to identify classes and programs requested by our diverse student population while also making sure we are responding to the demands of employers in our local marketplace. Program additions (such as the Precision Ag program) are often driven by technological advances and Parkland has a proven track record of being ready, willing and able to respond to these ever-changing needs.
SP: How do you incentivize area students to seek out Parkland College as a viable option for post high school study?
Green: Parkland is already known for its ability to provide a strong academic foundation at an affordable price but there are many reasons why Parkland may be the best option for post high school study. Parkland needs to find a way to make it very clear to all potential students that transferring to a four-year college is not the only path Parkland offers. Excellent careers can be obtained through the training and education provided by Parkland at a fraction of the cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. There are wonderful career opportunities just waiting for students who enroll in our career and technical programs. This is particularly true in the areas of manufacturing, auto mechanics and in the skilled trades –- electrical, plumbing, HVAC and carpentry. These opportunities are available for high school students as well as for non-traditional students who are ready to make a career change. Parkland must increase its efforts toward reaching future students who may excel in these areas because there are more jobs than there are students who are trained and ready to fill them.
SP: What priority do you place on community aspect of this community college: Community Education and Business Training, College for Kids, the Planetarium? The Theater?
Green: The mission at Parkland is a simple one: “to engage the community in learning.” All of
our community focused programs deserve ongoing support from the college as they provide
unique learning opportunities for the diverse population of the District #505 community. Although I started my post-high school studies at Parkland, the college continues to play a
large role in my family’s ongoing learning endeavors. My daughter enrolled in Parkland
College for Kids as soon as she was old enough to do so. We have seen many wonderful
performances at the Parkland Theater and have attended several field trips to the Planetarium. In addition, I have personally benefitted from participating in ongoing business leadership training offered through Parkland over the past few years and last year I completed an online course in creative writing for my own personal growth. My family is like many others – when we are ready to learn, Parkland is there. The positive impact of our life-long educational programming should not be underestimated and it must remain a priority of the college.