Candidate Questionnaire: Kim Savage

Running for COD board

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Joash Mencias

Board candidate Kim Savage at a March 24 forum.

Quick Biography

Born in Lemont; currently live in Darien. Born May 13, 1955. Education: M.Ed., 1980 Oregon State University- Majored in College Student Services Administration, Minored in Business Administration; B.A., 1977 North Central College. Occupation: Consultant, Program Assessment and Policy Analysis.

What do you want students to know about you?

While I was an undergraduate at North Central College, I learned that college can have a significant impact on students’ lives when they become fully engaged with the institution. The passion I developed through student employment and student leadership involvement led me to Oregon State University where I obtained my master’s degree in Student Services. During graduate school, I had the opportunity to study with some of the pioneers in the growing area of student development and student identity. I worked as a Program Adviser/Coordinator in the Student Activities Office there and had practicums in Food Service, Student Housing, and the Outdoor Recreation Center. During my professional career in higher education I held a variety of positions in both student services and auxiliary services at IIT, the Ohio State University and UIC. I have worked over 30 years helping to keep the costs of higher education down and to ensure that students receive value from the institutions they attend. In addition, it has been my personal mission to help students succeed with their academic goals and to help find their passion in life.

Why are you seeking office?

I am running because I am committed to keeping the costs of college low, ensuring that we provide a well-educated and well-trained workforce for our district, and that we continue to be a wise investment for the community for economic development. Unlike some people who have suggested that our institution only needs to be at best a two-year pass through for a handful of high school graduates who might then go on someplace else to get an education, I understand that we are not the same school we were 30 years ago.  With now the second-largest enrollment of any college or university in Illinois, our growing national reputation for excellence, and the fact that we are the fastest growing community college in the U.S. outside of California it’s clear the people who actually live in COD’s district agree with us.   This college is an invaluable resource for OUR community, and I am dedicated to providing the responsible and responsive leadership the college needs to continue to progress to an even better future.

What factors determine whether or not tuition should be increased?

Tuition should be raised only when the increases are absolutely needed to insure that we have a budget that supports the vital academic programs and facilities that we provide. It is essential to have a clear vision of what our long-term costs will be so that everyone – both the institution and students – can budget appropriately.  Small increments over time are always better than unnecessarily creating a catastrophic situation with large increases in tuition or fees that might prevent students from being able to continue or complete their studies. One Illinois community college has raised tuition 46% over the past five years, compared to only 8.5% for COD. However, when we are currently fortunate to have a very healthy fund balance due to stronger than projected enrollment, and there is no reason to increase tuition.  I am very concerned that the current environment may distract us from what should be our primary focuses on student value and academic excellence.  As we move away from this turmoil with new leadership, we must be very careful not to damage what is actually an excellent financial position for the institution or pursue policies that negatively impact student costs or educational programs simply because they might be politically advantageous or placate the small minority who believe COD should go back to just being a school for “strivers”.

I initially opposed the tuition increase for the 2014-2015 academic year that was passed by the board in early 2014 due to our strong financial position. Following another extremely positive year, I again questioned the need for the increase and in response the President proposed a $2 per credit hour reduction to the board. I amended the motion to double the reduction to $4 per credit hour. The amended motion passed by a 7-0 vote. Currently, the unknown ramifications of further state budget cuts to higher education that have been proposed in Springfield should be of concern to everyone.  Under these circumstances, a further decrease would be risky until we fully understand the extent and scope of any additional loss of funding.

In regards to President Obama’s proposal for free community college, what do you believe the threshold should be for a free education at COD?

America’s College Promise (ACP) is an intriguing concept that is based on smaller existing programs like the Tennessee Promise. Similar concepts have been suggested by some Illinois legislators in the past. The President’s proposal is for a national program and many details must be clarified before it is considered by Congress. As a concept, there is general agreement within the community college arena that it can offer significant benefits to our country by providing a better prepared and educated workforce to compete and thrive in our increasingly global economy. Discussions between national community college organizations, the U.S. Department of Education, and legislators are in progress to identify critical issues that need to be resolved as the program is developed. Currently, ACP has different GPA requirements than existing Federal Financial Aid programs, which creates an inconsistency that has to be resolved. The built-in requirement for state funding to participate may also inhibit the progress of the ACP, particularly in Illinois. While I favor implementation of universal public education for K-14, we must all realize that “free community college” cannot be entirely free. Costs will be ultimately borne by taxpayers, but it is a wise investment in our country.  The concept is sound in that it has been conclusively demonstrated that individuals with a community college education can expect nearly a $500,000 median increase in lifetime earnings compared to those with just a high school diploma.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

De-Politicizing the college: Our current situation poses a serious threat to both the continued progress and development of the college.  In light of the upcoming presidential search (detailed below), it may interfere with our ability to attract the best candidates to lead the institution into its next stage of growth.  We need to be careful to protect our hard-earned reputation and maintain a singular focus on educational development and the interests of our faculty and the students they serve.  We need responsible, calm, and thoughtful leadership now more than ever.  We are trying to steadily guide the college out of a traumatic and turbulent time with an eye towards an expansive and dynamic new phase.  We cannot afford to instead create more unease for personal political gain or intentionally attract unneeded and undue criticism that may adversely reflect on the college for any reason, good or ill.

Presidential search: We need a candidate pool of diverse talents and experiences in order to find someone who can not only lead the institution into its next phase of development but who can also reach out to the faculty, staff, and community to heal the rifts that have been created over the last months and years.  While I detail the specific qualities I will be looking for in a new president in response to question #10 below, I cannot over state how important it is that we ensure that both the search and hiring process is both open and collaborative.  We need to focus on selecting someone with an unquestioned record of creating innovative programs and promoting academic excellence to enhance student experience and value while demonstrating financial responsibility and public accountability.  They will need to show that they work cooperatively and lead collaboratively.  We cannot let the search or selection progress be impacted by anything other our real need for an individual who has the vision, talents, and temperament to protect and enhance our growing national reputation for excellence.  Leading an institution of higher learning isn’t like running any other organization, and this process must reflect that truth.

Financial Concerns and Transparency: Support from the State of Illinois has been very unpredictable over the past several years. It has continued to fall far short of the 33% of our budget that was envisioned when community colleges were first created in Illinois. As mentioned above, the outlook is bleak for the near term due to the financial condition of the state. The college will need to continue to budget expected support conservatively until a more complete picture of the state budget situation is available.  We must also anticipate that the state may shift some or all of the cost of pension matches to local units of government. The board has already identified funds in the fund balance to cover some of these anticipated new costs. If this shift occurs, a long-term solution to pay this new obligation will be required. The increase in unfunded mandates coming from the State of Illinois in recent years continues to pose challenges for COD and other educational institutions. I have personally engaged legislators concerning the negative impact of unfunded mandates and will continue to advocate for relief.

Transparency is vital for good government. Technology will continue to improve the mechanisms for easily making documents available to the public. All of the published budget and planning documents are available from the college’s website. While the check register for board approved expenditures has been available since 2008, at the community’s request, the entire check register is now available online. I have pushed the board to have more information available online and will continue to champion that goal. Publicly available information will reduce the staff time and expense required to fulfill FOIA requests. I also support the live streaming of meetings.

What is your opinion on the possible addition of a new Teaching and Learning Center?

The community has made a wise decision in recent years to invest in providing outstanding facilities for teaching and learning for our students. New and renovated academic facilities contain state-of-the-art technology and have the flexibility to adapt to changing instructional needs. The facilities also support some of the high impact practices that contribute to student success and degree completion, such as space that is conducive to collaborative assignments and undergraduate research projects. Well-designed classroom buildings that create an inviting learning environment contribute to the college’s ability to attract and retain students. Combined with COD’s excellent academic program and affordability, they form a learning enterprise that is defying state and national enrollment trends.

Classroom space is in high demand during peak times. While additional classroom space can assist in accommodating academic program needs, several factors need to be considered relative to a new Teaching and Learning Center. Even though the pipeline of high school seniors will decline over the next few years, the affordability and excellence of COD is attracting an increasing percentage of these students. The innovative 3 + 1 partnerships keep students enrolled at the college for a third year and on campus with the partner institution for a fourth year. These programs have generated considerable excitement in the community and will clearly experience further growth. It has been suggested that online courses will reduce the need for physical classroom space, but this ignores the fact that vast majority of our career-related and certification programs require hands-on learning activities in on-campus facilities. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that students learn better in a collaborative environment where they interact with and are inspired by their colleagues.

A teaching and learning building has been included in planning documents since at least 2010, so it is not a new concept. Based on consistent indicators that space during peak times will continue to be at a premium, I believe that the most prudent and responsible action is to use the funds that have been already identified for the project to build the additional center. If we wait until we have created a classroom space crisis, it will be too late.

In your opinion, does the college need more parking? How would you go about creating more parking if you do believe it is an issue?

The issue with parking is not that there isn’t enough parking, it is that during peak times, people may have to park further from their destination than they would like. The college examined building a parking structure as part of the 2010 bond referendum project, however it was determined that the cost to build tiered parking was much greater than simply adding additional surface lot parking. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the cost per space to build surface lot parking is $4,000 compared to $20,000 for an above ground structure. The cost to build underground parking is estimated at $30,000-$40,000 per space. We did increase the number of spaces on campus by expanding existing parking lots. One solution to parking congestion is partnering with PACE and local communities to increase public transportation options for students. Other cost-effective solutions include the operation of a shuttle service from remote parking areas to campus buildings, increasing the bicycle-friendliness of the campus, working with IDOT and the communities responsible for the major approaches to the school to include protected bike lanes in any planned roadway improvements, and looking for ways to improve the walkability of the campus and parking lots.

A recent satisfaction survey said students are unhappy with the current counseling options on campus. How would you improve it?

Counseling and academic advising are vital to student success. While students expressed dissatisfaction in the recent survey, steps to improve academic advising were already in progress at the time. Over the past decade, much research has been done on high impact practices for student success and degree completion. Orientation and advising provide a critical foundation for assisting students to navigate through their academic programs in the most efficient and economical way as well as to establish and attain personal development and academic goals. The college must continue to ensure that all counselors and advisors are knowledgeable about the academic program options and significant resources available to our students. We are instituting a cycle of ongoing assessment and improvements to the advising program to make certain it meets the individual needs of all our students.

The full-time faculty has voted to express no confidence in President Robert Breuder. Breuder has also been granted a severance package. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?

I am angry that the current board was put into a difficult position by a poorly written contract that allowed little or no room for corrective action should it ever be required. A largely new and inexperienced board, which may not have recognized the requirements the terms created or their financial implications also executed the contract. The contract was also extended when it was just a few months old after an election and before the new board was seated.  What has been almost completely lost in the recent coverage of the ongoing situation at the college is that the contract has built-in provisions for automatic renewals, and that the college was obligated to pay out more than $2 million for its remainder. With the growing tensions within the college that were impacting the staff, faculty, and potentially students it would have been irresponsible to continue the contract to 2019. It was in the best interest of everyone at the college to arrive at a negotiated retirement agreement that both reduced our financial exposure and allowed for a timely and measured transition so that we could move on to establish a new administration under new leadership.

What qualities do you seek in a new president when President Breuder’s term is up?

I had mentioned this in detail as one of the most pressing issues facing the college.  The College of DuPage is one of the pre-eminent community colleges in the country and requires a president who can both nurture our unique and dynamic educational environment and work with the community to lead the college’s continued development. The new president must be selected through a much-improved open process that includes constituencies within the college and community leaders. All candidates must have experience in an innovative community college environment, be extremely knowledgeable about the rapidly changing higher education field, and have a demonstrated commitment to ensuring that the community’s educational needs and overall student experience are their highest priorities. We need someone who possesses a collaborative management style coupled with a reliance on open and honest communications with all stakeholders in the institutions where they have led.  They will also need to have the personal skills to heal tensions and wounds by listening to and understanding the concerns of everyone in our college community so that trust can be re-established between administration, faculty, staff, students, district residents, and the board.