Declining student enrollment dominates race for JCCC Board of Trustees

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In Johnson County, advance voting by mail for the general election starts Wednesday.

To help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro, FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County. 

Dawn Rattan, Gerry Malnar, Jae Moyer, Joy Koesten, Lee Cross, Mark Hamill, Martha Rose Davis, Paul Snider and Wayne Sandberg will compete to fill four seats on the Johnson County Community College (JCCC) Board of Trustees. 

FOX4 did not receive a response from Cross, Davis or Koesten. Here’s a look at what the other candidates had to say: 

Q: Why do you want to serve on the JCCC Board of Trustees?

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Mark Hamill

Hamill: As a graduate of JCCC and long-time resident of Johnson County, I believe I bring a unique perspective both from a student’s and taxpayers’ viewpoint. During my time at JCCC, I was overwhelmed by the incredible faculty and staff who went to great lengths to help me succeed. Dollar for dollar, it is one of the best institutions in the country.

I’m running for the board to preserve educational opportunities for students like myself while being responsible with taxpayer’s financial investment. At my core, I’ve always been a fiscal conservative. Balancing a budget is a daily principle of millions of Americans, just like you and me. It is time government started to value the people who live in the community. Coming from a student’s perspective, it is critical to have representation that understand the challenges of higher education, especially for non-traditional students. It is important to me that we keep JCCC focused on well-rounded, flexible, and strong academic programs, not politics. 

Malnar: As a physician educator, I have a passion for education and training. Currently, as a director and physician executive for Cerner Physician Relations Organization, I am working with two medical schools, University of Buffalo Jacob’s School of Medicine and Penn State University College of Medicine, to incorporate electronic health record learning into the medical school curriculum.

Moyer: I want to serve on the Board of Trustees to bring a new perspective and voice to the table. As the college focuses on issues of “DEI”, or diversity, equity, and inclusion, I want to make sure we have representation at the college who have diverse experiences. I would be the second openly LGBTQ+ Trustee if elected, and the only one to currently serve on the board. I openly identify as gay and gender non-binary, and I am also a student at the college. My platform of “Equality, Education, Opportunity” brings these experiences to light. 

In regard to equality, I want to create safe spaces on campus for Black, brown, indigenous, and LGBTQ+ students and faculty at the college, because a recent DEI report found that there is a desire on campus for a “well resourced office of diversity”. As an LGBTQ+ student on campus, I believe this is necessary to transform JCCC into a more welcoming, inclusive, and safe campus.

In regard to education, I believe that (both adjunct and full-time) educators are the front line of defense when it comes to providing our community with a quality education; they are the ones in the classrooms, the professionals actually teaching students about things that will prepare them to go out in the world and support our economy and society. This is why I want to measure the relationship that staff and faculty have with the Board of Trustees by creating a “relationship climate survey”- something that will inform the Board of Trustees on what they can directly do to make sure educators are feeling respected, and have the autonomy to do their job in the best way possible.

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Jae Moyer

In regard to opportunity, I want to make sure that as a Trustee, I am asking questions to pursue every available avenue when it comes to removing barriers to increase access to a college education. While prices at JCCC are competitive with other local colleges in the Kansas City Metro, as a student, I have still unfortunately had peers who have not been able to receive their education. These are students working 40 hours a week to support themselves and their families that have had to drop their classes due to a lack of access. If elected, I would heavily rely on financial advisors and staff at the college to direct me on how to propose fiscally responsible plans to possibly lower the cost of tuition or increase access to scholarships, especially for non-traditional programs, such as Continuing Ed[ucation].

I believe that with my experience and perspective, I am uniquely suited to speak to ideas of equality, education, and opportunity at JCCC. I believe that if we focus on these ideas, that we will be well on track to providing a quality education to whoever needs one, and we will be able to better prepare our community for the next economy.

Rattan: I would like to serve on the board to continue to protect the community college and its educational quality. It serves as the cultural center of our county and I would like to ensure that it continues to serve our community for decades into the future.

Education is important to me and I personally know the impact it has on lives. It can improve a person, a family and communities for generations. I would like to improve accessibility to the college, as well as success in college and success after leaving JCCC. I would like to use my perspective and life experiences from corporate America, business startups, and community groups to help lead the college into the next era.

I’ll also be a good steward of the college. With 67% of the college funded by county taxes, we’ve got to continue [to] make smart decisions with the money. I am a mom, a business owner and I believe in giving back to my community. I’m a hard worker and believe in doing what’s right.

My engineering skills make me a data-based problem solver, and always seeking process improvement. By owning and starting up businesses, I’ve learned to pay attention to details, conflict resolution, customer service and creativity. I’ve worked and collaborated with a wide range of people from various backgrounds and points of view including union members, technicians, executives, stay at home moms, volunteers, and customers.

I will bring my perspective and experience from corporate work and business startups to the board to work for the good of the college. 

Sandberg: I built my house in 1979 in Nottingham Forest; 119th Street was gravel and dead ended at the new subdivision and JCCC was barely 10 years old. I have contributed to the growth and prosperity of this beautiful community college that not only serves our youth that want to continue to a higher degree, but empowers workforce development for our businesses, adult education and serves as the cultural hub for all citizens of the county. But we have witnessed for last 10 years a continued decrease in enrollment. I believe I would be a key player with my vast experience in building businesses to tackle the problem.

Snider: I love Johnson County and want to help the community prosper. Johnson County Community College is a key community asset. Providing a quality, affordable education is the college’s first priority, but the college also plays a significant role in workforce development and provides valuable cultural opportunities. The college needs experienced leaders, that know the community, to ensure JCCC remains a top choice for students and the community.

Q: Do you feel JCCC has implemented appropriate COVID precautions? If elected, what metric would you use in deciding health and safety precautions in the future? 

Hamill: I do believe JCCC has implemented appropriate measures to accommodate the needs of those most affected by COVID-19. The hybrid and online option have been available for many years and most professors were well-equipped to handle those challenges. However, I believe it is just as important to offer in-person options for those who are not at a high risk of contracting and becoming ill from the virus.

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Gerry Malnar

We must keep students safe, and we must also keep them engaged in their studies. JCCC should accommodate those who need to move to a fully online curriculum and students who want to be on campus. Studies show that hands-on learning and engagement are critical to graduation and retention. Our students desire face-to-face instruction, and it is our duty to make it available, safely. I believe in metrics that accurately reflect our student population. Most of our students are in a low-risk category and should be able to continue their education with little or no interruptions as more individuals get vaccinated. For the record, I do NOT support a vaccine mandate for students or faculty. 

Malnar: Regarding Covid, the college has a task force that has been tasked with developing best practices. My only suggestion is to bring to the table physicians experienced in managing Covid cases to better inform policies and procedures.

Moyer: JCCC has an incredible staff, hired by the president of the college, Dr. Andy Bowne, who guides the college through issues such as these. This staff, supported by the college’s administration and the current Board of Trustees, has made the decision to require masks in all indoor spaces on campus.

As COVID-19 evolves, and situations change regarding variants of the virus, vaccination rates, and COVID-19 positive case numbers, I believe it is important to listen to medical professionals and their recommendations regarding COVID-19 safety procedures. I believe that the college is currently doing this, and if I am elected, I plan to work with the college to continue this practice. The college should continue to follow recommendations by local experts, such as those who serve our community at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE).

Rattan: Yes, I believe that JCCC has implemented appropriate COVID precautions. I make decisions based on data and facts. This has become emotional for all of us but I prefer to follow the information from Johnson County Health Department, KU Medical Center, and the CDC. Using available data and working through the issues with a diverse and caring leadership team will guide my recommendation.

Masks have enabled us to gather and have fun this year. We’ve attended games and events in person, and been able to gather when the same time last year, we were at home in isolation. With masks and vaccines we have been able to somewhat return to life and I am grateful that things have changed compared to 2020.

Sandberg: President Dr. Bowne and the administration, with little warning of the ensuing epidemic, have done a very good job and are continuing to implement procedures to protect all that could be affected while at same time continuing to providing the education that is needed by the citizens of our county. If elected I would recommend using directional air flow, such as exhaust fans that ventilation removes rather than creating hazards. Reducing class size by extending hours of operation would allow social distancing. Good leadership in management finds ways to make programs work.

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Paul Snider

Snider: The college has responded well to COVID. An internal task force was quickly established and advised the president on appropriate protocols. The Board of Trustees has been advised, but have not voted on the measures. 

In the Spring of 2020 and through the 2020/2021 school year, JCCC required masks on campus and most classes were migrated online. Fortunately, accommodations were made for students that had to be on campus to use special equipment and lab spaces. For Fall 2021, masks are again required, but approximately 70 percent of classes are in-person. Masks clearly aren’t universally supported, but masks are the best option to keep JCCC open. The college has also encouraged students and employees to get vaccinated.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the college’s budget?

Hamill: More transparency and appropriate spending that align with the current enrollment numbers. Over the past 10 years, the budget has increased by 45% and enrollment has decreased by 24%. This inverse relationship is not healthy and not well explained by current members on the board.

To add to that, the average voter has no idea that 81% of the budget is funded by taxpayers. When adding programs or increasing the budget, it must be a student focused program that adds value to the community, such as athletics, additional certification programs or technical programs, and key educational advances that will bring more jobs to Johnson County and benefit our local economy. Many families are feeling the impact of inflation and rising property taxes. Our budget must keep in mind the citizens and residents who help pay the bills.

Malnar: Closely look at facilities management and limit expansion until there is improvement in enrollments. When updates are required, we must have a value driven approach working within our means.

Moyer: I believe that the number one job of the college is to provide whoever needs one with a quality education that will prepare them for the next economy. In order to do this, we must increase access and remove any barriers possible that would prevent students from receiving that education.

In order to do this, we must ask ourselves several questions: are the staff and faculty adequately supported in order to do the best job that they can? Is the college currently offering the programs necessary to support our community’s economy? Can we find ways to shore up the budget in order to ease financial burdens that students may currently be facing? If the answer is yes to all of those questions, then it is my belief that the budget of the college is exactly what it needs to be. If this is not the case, then I believe we need to make changes to the budget in order to reflect that this is truly the goal of the Board of Trustees, and of the college.

If elected, I would rely on financial advisors and staff at the college to answer these questions as honestly as possible, and problem solve to come up with a budget that reflects a focus on providing an incredibly necessary resource to our community.

Rattan: On the surface, I would like to ensure we have enough funds to help with recruiting and mental health. However, I plan to meet with the Trustees and Financial Services to understand the details and learn more about the budget.

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Dawn Rattan

The budget and policies and priorities of the college go hand in hand. As we update our strategic plan, the budget will need to be adjusted to ensure that the funds are available to deliver the strategic plan and priorities. The strategic plan goals must [be] backed with support by our budget.

We should continuously look for inefficiencies and work to eliminate any waste in spending. Additionally, we need to stay focused on the needs of the students.

We should also evaluate the level of reserves we maintain. It’s currently at 9 months worth of reserves, but we should determine the right level for our organization. The caution is that spending down the reserves could lead to a downgrade on Moody’s Rating.

Sandberg: This wonderful community college, that I am so proud to say is in my city, has been a leader in social justice, DEI, and environmental sustainability on a national level. With increases in home prices there is no need for increasing the mill levy, as there will be revenue from that source. But [for]the elephants in the room (decreasing enrollment and out of control inflation) that increase operating costs. the solution needs to be increasing enrollment. 

We need a huge budget increase in the schools recruiting program for high school, employees growth for business, and the certificate and technical programs. I would like to see a major portion of the current athletic program go to development of a world class Esports  program that would bring more stem students into the tech and certificate programs. The future is now!

Snider: JCCC is fortunate to be in a county with a strong tax base, however, the current burden on property taxpayers is too high. Property tax funds 67% of the college, tuition and fees fund 17%, with 14% coming from the state. The college should work toward reducing the property tax burden to closer to 50% by advocating for better state funding, considering modest adjustments to tuition, and carefully watching what we spend. The college also has reserve fund levels that are too high (about 40% of budget). The amount we put into reserves each year can be reduced, which would allow the property tax rate to be reduced. 

Q: Would you support a tuition increase? Please explain. 

Hamill: I absolutely do not want to raise tuition and believe our current tuition rate is affordable. I am against “free” college. There needs to be tangible value associated with JCCC that represents the quality of education and specifically the high-quality faculty and staff. For myself, affordability was a major factor in going the 2-year path and is also a great option for parents and non-traditional students going back to school. To off-set additional costs, I would support more scholarship opportunities for athletics and specific academic interests that are funded through community partnerships with local businesses. This is a great way to keep us involved and create visibility for our students. 

Malnar: JCCC is a value priced education.  Students bear only 18% of the cost of their education, whereas Johnson Countians contribute 67% of the operating revenue for the enterprise. In 2013, ad valorem taxes contributed 55% and tuition was 25% of operating revenues. It stands to reason, students will need to bear more of the financial responsibilities required to run the school.

Moyer: If it can be avoided, I would not be in favor of increasing the tuition. I believe that if we begin to raise prices at the college, that will put financial strain and stress on our already hardworking students, my peers, who want to get their education so they can join the workforce in our community and stimulate our economy.

With many businesses requiring a Bachelor’s Degree from their potential employees, and in addition, the enriching experience an education can provide to anyone who receives one, we need to make sure that we are doing our part to make college as accessible as possible. This is also why I support programs like the Kansas Scholarship Promise, which are seeking to remove barriers in our state to allow members of our community to attend college. It is my belief that if we raise tuition prices, we are doing our community and ourselves a disservice, because it will disenfranchise those who need an education to grow and contribute to our society.

Rattan: There’s definitely ongoing work to balance the tuition, state funds and taxes. Currently, the 67% of the budget is Ad Valorem Taxes and 18% is from student tuition.

There is a national student loan debt crisis, and our students have the opportunity to attend college and not incur debt. Our goal is to provide students with the highest quality education at the lowest cost to them. JCCC has a competitive rate for comparable colleges, and JCCC’s world class education and experiences result in viable employees in the job market with real careers.

Tuition should be at a competitive, but affordable rate not only for the region but also compared to similar colleges offering the same quality of education.

One of the main reasons students attend JCCC is to have an affordable and debt free education, so the decision to increase tuition is a serious one. Additionally, any decisions to increase tuition should be transparent, ensuring that the purpose of the increase is understood. For these reasons, at this time, I would not support a tuition increase. However, we need to evaluate tuition annually.

JCCC Board of Trustees Candidate Wayne Sandberg

Sandberg: I am not in support of a tuition increase. That said if we don’t address inflation and decreased enrollment in the next two years we will need to make some painful decisions. Homeowners are going to be paying more in taxes due to higher appraisals. They are having a harder time making those increased payments too. We need creative leadership by those of us that have experience in solving problems in the toughest of times. I have seen 22% and 0% interest rates and many ups and downs and have grown stronger and smarter in handling all types of environments.

Snider: I don’t champion a tuition increase, but it is a reasonable consideration for the College. I supported a $1 increase in 2018. JCCC charges county residents $94 (including fees) a credit hour. That’s the lowest in Kansas and far lower than Metropolitan Community College. Even a dollar or two increase will keep the college affordable and competitive. However, increasing enrollment would be better than a tuition increase.

Q: What do you feel will be the biggest challenge to the college in the next 5 years and how should it be addressed? 

Hamill: As I’ve mentioned, our enrollment has been down 24% in the last 10 years. Covid-19 has certainly played a role in that decrease. Many students have delayed their education. The important challenge is making college attractive for those students, especially for those who could benefit from our technical programs and professional certifications. What are we doing to reach out to the community, specifically, high school students?

I believe our recruiting efforts have not been a strong priority of the college in recent years. We can certainly do better. Our message to the community needs to start with quality and affordability. JCCC is a place for everyone, not just recent high school graduates. I would address our admissions and marketing department to come up with a 5-year strategic plan to communicate the value of JCCC and work on being more active in the local community. 

Malnar: Declining enrollments can be addressed by looking at the offerings and comparing it to the Johnson County workforce. For example, there are countless technology and engineering jobs that are unfilled. Establishing American Board of Engineering & Technology accredited programs in these areas will have a remarkable impact. Expanding skilled trades professions programs is another opportunity. To be successful in these endeavors, industry partnership and sponsorship must be pursued. These programs require marketing to our GED programs and high schools. It is self-evident these endeavors will invigorate the Johnson County middle class.

Moyer: It’s no secret that I want to focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion when elected to the Board of Trustees, but I believe that there is a growing need to pursue every avenue possible when it comes to making Black, brown, indigenous, and LGBTQ+ students and faculty on campus feel safe and welcomed. I recognize that I can only speak for my specific experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but I stand by my thought that the college needs specific space on campus to focus on these issues. When we empower the voices of those who are disproportionately affected by discrimination, only then can we understand them and work on finding solutions to problems that unjustly affect their situation on campus and create barriers that can impede their ability to receive the same education their peers are also seeking to receive.

Rattan: Higher sustained enrollment is the biggest challenge coupled with workforce development. I suggest that we do a full court press to increase enrollment and improve workforce development:

  1. Perform a root cause analysis on all the reasons that enrollment is declining and address the top 3-4.
  2. Continue to partner with industry and high schools.
  3. Provide incentives/rewards at end of completed semesters.
  4. Provide mentors in intended industry or another student with same major.
  5. Use key ambassadors, like the Trustees. We can utilize an army of ambassadors to adopt local schools to create relationships that result better marketing and ultimately higher enrollment
  6. Shadow – a day or week in the life of a JCCC student during summer. There’s nothing like experiential events to create a connection. Then follow up with letters, emails and phone calls.
  7. Marketing – the SM Post has a weekly feature—can we do weekly segments on the news too?
  8. Benchmark schools that have seen increases:  the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Virginia and Edison State Community College in Ohio have bucked the trend with enrollment increases this fall.
  9. Co-create curriculum and apprenticeships with specific industries. Continue relationships with industry, higher education resources and community to ensure that our curriculum stays relevant and agile.

Sandberg: Births in [the] US took a nosedive in 2008 and still has not recovered. We are going to see a drop off in incoming high school students of 15% in 2026; coupled with the decreases in enrollment in last 10 years and inflation making everything more expensive. 

We need a major building of recruiting to get incoming students [from] beyond our borders. We need to aggressively work with our businesses to develop their workers. We need to work with universities around the country; pulling our high school graduates to allow JCCC to handle lower level coursework, before attending their institutions. We need to work with the Chamber [of Commerce] to recruit companies that we will provide what they need in workforce development. We need a world class online learning program that reaches students worldwide. The higher education recruiting model of the past (if we build it, they will come) no longer works. JCCC needs a program that not only competes, but wins the recruiting battle that is coming.

Snider: Declining enrollment is the biggest challenge for JCCC in the next few years. Since enrollment highs following the 2008-2009 recession, enrollment has gradually declined. The overall county has grown significantly in the time period. The college has fewer full-time equivalent students in 2021 than we had in 2003 and far fewer than we had in 2011. Yet the college budget keeps increasing [by] about 3% a year, mostly to pay for salary and benefit increases (about 70% of the expense budget). The current model isn’t sustainable. 

Perhaps it’s a marketing issue, or perhaps it’s more of a cultural shift in higher education (all of higher ed is down, and JCCC is performing better than most). JCCC has great faculty and a tradition of excellence. We have a beautiful campus and many new facilities, including a new arts and design building, a new career and technical education building (HVAC, automotive, electrical, etc) and new welding facilities. We’re in the process of updating science labs. We need to always engage the community and employers to make sure we’re meeting their expectations. JCCC has a lot to offer.

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