Workforce Training, Affordability Top Priorities for New Heartland Community College President

 Keith Cornille says Heartland Community College has "a great reputation as an up-and-coming institution," momentum he plans to build on as the college's next president. Cornille assumes his new position in July following current president Rob Widmer’s retirement. (Image credit: Breanna Grow.)

Keith Cornille says Heartland Community College has "a great reputation as an up-and-coming institution," momentum he plans to build on as the college's next president. Cornille assumes his new position in July following current president Rob Widmer’s retirement. (Image credit: Breanna Grow.)

Incoming Heartland Community College President Keith Cornille says the college laid a lot of important groundwork in its first 25 years.

Now the relatively young institution can focus in the coming decades on finding innovative ways to meet the community’s changing needs.

Currently serving as Executive Vice President and Chief Student Services Officer at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin, Cornille said the open position at Heartland offered the chance to work at a community college whose values closely aligned with his own.

“Heartland has a great reputation as an up-and-coming institution--fantastic faculty and staff that are truly committed to the thing that is most important to me, and that’s students,” he said. “It really has the quality of instruction that is necessary for an institution to excel.”

As a two-year college with both degree credit and non-degree credit programs, Cornille said Heartland’s mission is not only to prepare students to transfer to 4-year institutions but also to prepare them to fill the gaps in the local workforce.

Continuing conversations between Heartland and the surrounding business community will be a high priority for Cornille to discover how the college can develop programs that train students to meet local employers’ needs.

For example, electric auto startup Rivian Automotive plans to add 1,000 jobs at its Normal manufacturing facility over the next 10 years. Heartland’s Vice President for Learning and Student Success Rick Pierce told AdaptBN Editorial Board Member Mary Kramp that the college has held ongoing discussions with the Rivian team concerning training opportunities.

“We are looking at ways in which we might adapt what we currently offer to better meet the emerging needs of Rivian, in addition to looking at new programs that might align well with current and future needs,” Pierce said.

With individuals ages 18-24 making up 64% of Heartland’s student population, Cornille said he sees an opportunity for the college to include those over age 24 who may need additional skill development in such programs.

A major concern for Cornille will be keeping college affordable for students while making sure Heartland remains financially sound.

“We need to continue to think about the collective affordability for students,” he said. “There are many [costs] that are indirect and not associated with tuition that also have an impact on students and the affordability of their education.”

Pocket Change: Heartland estimates that a student living with parents and taking 12 credit hours a semester will pay a total of $10,662 for the 2018-2019 academic year -- tuition and fees only account for $3,672 of that figure, while living expenses are estimated at $4,300. For a student living away from home, the total estimated cost rises to $15,112, adding an extra $4,450 in living expenses compared to a classmate living at home.

With the school’s funding model based heavily on tuition and property taxes, and in light of continued uncertainty in state funding, Cornille said Heartland will have to strike the right balance to avoid overburdening students or taxpayers.

“That then means that you need to be creative in leveraging your resources in the most meaningful way,” including working with community partners to keep costs affordable for students.

Cornille also pointed to the state’s Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides grants to college students in financial need.

“The majority of allocations are going to the four-year institutions and those students. However, a larger portion of students in higher education in the state of Illinois are actually in community colleges. So we have to work with the state at looking at that imbalance of how those monies are allocated.”

Student outmigration--residents leaving to attend college in other states--has been another increasing problem for higher education institutions in Illinois.

The Data: Data released in January by the Illinois Board of Higher Education shows that from 2000 to 2016, the number of Illinois residents enrolling as college freshmen in other states grew 73%--from 20,507 to 35,445. In 2016 Illinois saw a net loss of 19,278 college freshmen, second only to New Jersey with a net loss of 28,932.  

“We have the same conversation here in Wisconsin,” Cornille said. “If we do our jobs well, and we have seen it here at Madison, individuals stay here in this community.”

Key Takeaway: Cornille's top priorities will focus on some of the main concerns of many higher education institutions and their students: providing opportunities that prepare students for the workforce and keeping those opportunities affordable.