Rockford College students spent 6,700 hours volunteering last year.
While that figure is impressive, the college’s president, Robert Head, calls it a commodity — something a lot of colleges can rival. What is important about the volunteerism, he said, is whether the college uses those hours to "create a transformation” in the community.
We like his approach: civic engagement not only for its own sake, but directed toward a need.
Head, at the helm 21 months, gave the Editorial Board an update Monday on the past year at Rockford College. In community involvement and in other areas, signs are encouraging:
The college recently celebrated its third consecutive year with its budget in positive numbers. In four years, the college has reduced its liabilities by $7 million.
In fall 2009 — for the third year in a row — enrollment at the college was above expectations at 1,500 full-time undergraduate and graduate students. Head said the school is seeing more transfer students than full-time freshmen, which he attributes to the economy and the surge in community college enrollment.
What would surprise many people: Of students attending four-year colleges in Illinois, there are more at private schools like Rockford College (52 percent) than public universities (48 percent). It’s a misconception that such an education is more expensive.
Private colleges can offer financial aid packages that make the price tag equivalent to, or only slightly higher than, a public university.
In fact, 600 students at Rockford College last year qualified for Illinois’ Monetary Award Program grants, awarded to low-income students.
The college is trying to capitalize on its strength in professional development programs in teacher education, nursing and business. It will double the seats available in the nursing program from 40 to 80. More than one-third of this area’s nurses will retire in the next 10 years, and the expansion will help offset the shortage, a college official told the Register Star last month.
Also, Head said the college applied to the state for certification of its early childhood education training for teachers. Approval is expected in the next couple of months.
The college also will move its adult center into the former Whitehead realty office on East State Street. While not all master’s degree classes can be held at that location, "We think that’s a good thing — to have Rockford College back out on State Street.” We do, too. The college had to sell 65 acres — including parklike frontage on State Street — when it faced a financial crisis in the late 1980s.
Some capital investments will not be so visible to passers-by, but they are equally important. The college has spent nearly $1 million in the last year and a half, upgrading technology in classrooms. Also, $2.7 million in state capital funds will be spent replacing a broken air-conditioning system and fixing roads and driveways on campus.
As a small school with a small annual budget ($20 million), the college is still heavily reliant on student tuition and fees to keep the doors open.
Head is trying to boost the bottom line by developing an international market for a Rockford College education. For example, he has visited Rockford’s sister city in China and laid the groundwork for a partner relationship with a university there. In such arrangements, a Chinese student might attend one year of university in China and finish his or her education at Rockford College.
That’s long-term thinking. Short term, Head is like countless other Rockfordians in what he worries about. "What keeps me up at night is, primarily, the economy,” he said.
We are pleased he is controlling what he can control, and doing it well.