HARRISBURG – With the Art on the Block program, students at Southeastern Illinois College joined with their instructor, Sara DeNeal, in urging the board to reconsider.
At the January 21 board meeting, Vice President Karen Weiss spoke about why the college is seeking to eliminate certificate and diploma programs in arts and commerce.
âEnrollment patterns coupled with declining tuition revenue and state disinvestment in higher education make them necessary,â she said.
DeNeal sees it differently.
âIf you want to increase enrollment, you don’t cut the programs,â she said.
DeNeal currently teaches five classes: Art Appreciation; Paint; Advanced painting; Wallet; and Ceramics.
While she says there are only eight graduate students enrolled in the art program, 84 students are enrolled in her classes.
It’s a little less than normal, she says, but let’s say the drop in enrollment isn’t specific to SIC. In February, DeNeal was told they needed to register. The pandemic struck in March, which DeNeal said made recruiting impossible.
âNormally we go to high schools or art exhibitions, or the teachers send us information about the students,â she said.
The pandemic has forced the cancellation of shows and put high school teachers in a difficult position to interact with their students through distance or hybrid learning.
A December article from NPR supports the claim of a nationwide drop in registrations.
Citing data from the National Student Clearinghouse, the article indicated that undergraduate enrollment fell by more than 10% at community colleges, to about 544,000 students.
DeNeal is concerned that removing the art program will only further decrease enrollment.
“If a student can afford it, he’ll just go somewhere else,” she said.
CIS officials said art classes would be offered as part of the community college’s SHARE program.
DeNeal thinks this is unrealistic.
âWe have students from Hardin and Pope counties already driving 45 to 60 minutes one way,â she said. “When they find out they have to go to John A. Logan or Rend Lake, they are unlikely to take that option.”
Mackenzie Gidcumb, an arts education major, addressed the CIS board of directors in January.
âCIS has always been a school where students can receive a full education, and that includes the visual arts,â she said in a letter to the board. “My fear is that by cutting the entire art program, you will not only lose the art students, but also other students who are looking for that full education.”
Marion’s former student Christopher Walle also addressed the board in writing.
âThe art program is very useful for prospective art students who need the coursework and the program to go to a top art school,â wrote Walle, who earned an associate’s degree at SIC. âThere are many jobs that require different types of art, such as artist, art therapist, art teacher, illustrator, arts administrator, cinema, theater, the list goes on.
âArt plays a big role in people’s lives, art is everywhere, even when people can’t see it. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to watch movies, see magazines, see posters and admire album covers. “
The SIC board is due to meet at 6 p.m. on February 16. DeNeal hopes he will reconsider and seek other funding opportunities, including federal relief funds of $ 2.2 million that are expected to be available through the Emergency Education Stabilization Funding Act.
It is also expected that additional PELL grant funding will be available in the fall.
Whatever the decision, DeNeal said she was proud of her students to step up.
“I took this opportunity to teach the students about advocacy and the importance of speaking from your heart and making your voice heard by those who make decisions,” she said.
âI’m really proud of my students who took ownership of their program and did what they could to save it. “
â¢ Disclosure: Sara DeNeal is the wife of Harrisburg Register editor-in-chief R. Travis DeNeal. He played no role in reporting and writing this story.