This article orginally appeared in the News-Gazette
By Meg Dickinson
URBANA — Following years of declining budgets and cuts to programs and staff, Urbana Adult Education is announcing this month a capital campaign that has a goal of raising $5 million during the next five years.
The campaign’s goal is to raise money for scholarships for students to attend post-secondary education, to update technology at its Urbana center and to expose its students to possible careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
New director Samuel Byndom, who was hired in August, said another goal of the campaign is to create awareness among community members about what Urbana Adult Education does.
The dollar amount of the campaign is based on “continuing budget cuts” and what Byndom expects the center will need to keep the programs it currently offers and perhaps “expand to serve populations that haven’t been served,” such as other areas of its district.
“People don’t know what we do,” Byndom said, adding that Urbana Adult Education serves students not only from Champaign County, but also Vermilion, Ford, Iroquois and even Coles counties, the same district Parkland College serves.
The Urbana Adult Education Center offers high school diploma completion, GED and English as a second language classes, and allows students to earn their CNA certification and other vocational training. In addition, it provides students who have taken time off from school with an opportunity to brush up on their academics before heading to college.
The program serves those who are underrepresented or marginalized in the community, Byndom said.
About 78 percent of the students Urbana Adult Education serves are considered low-income, Byndom said, and 74 percent are minorities.
“These students’ success has the greatest impact on the community,” he said, and he wants the center’s students to be competitive for jobs at local employers, like the University of Illinois or Parkland College.
Urbana Adult Education has seen “a steady decline of funding” since 2001-02, when the Illinois Community College Board took over the task of funding it. Previously, it had been funded by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Funding has been almost cut in half over the last six years, Byndom said.
David Gordon, Urbana Adult Education’s director of finance and development, said when the Illinois Community College Board took over funding adult education, funding was stable for the first year and has gone down each year since.
For example, in 2001-02, Urbana Adult Education received almost $1.1 million from the Illinois Community College Board. Total revenue that year was about $1.8 million.
This year, it expect to receive only about $600,000 from the board, out of about $915,000 total, with the rest of the funding coming from grants, Gordon said.
However, the state can reduce funding for the program mid-year, Gordon said, which it did in 2008-09, by about $10,000.
Funding from the state has also been delayed, which resulted in the center having to get a loan from the Urbana school district to pay its bills, which it is still paying off.
“So many other programs didn’t have that resource,” Gordon said.
Urbana Adult Education has seen some cuts — it stopped its community education program, which used to offer subjects such as cooking, sewing and woodworking to community members.
“We just did not have the manpower,” Gordon said. “We hope to start that again someday.”
Adult education programs that were part of school districts weren’t always rare, Gordon said, but now are because of the funding cuts.
“Many programs have had to close their doors,” he said.
And because of federal sequestration, the program’s federal funding through the Illinois Community College Board decreased by about $5,700, or about 2.8 percent.
“While the federal basic funding for high school diploma, GED and brush-up classes increased, the federal funding for (English as a second language) was cut,” he said.
Gordon said the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act requires the state to fund adult education in order for programs to receive federal funding.
“However, if the federal level declines, so can the state,” Gordon said. “With the economic situation in Illinois, this may hurt us, as well.”
But despite that financial outlook, Byndom is moving ahead with Urbana Adult Education’s capital campaign, which will also help establish scholarships for Urbana Adult Education students going on to post-secondary education.
The scholarships will be in the names of John M. Garth, who founded the program, and retired Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams. The latter scholarship will be specifically for students who want to pursue careers in secondary education.
The recipients will be students who reflect those two men, Byndom said, and have a passion for life-long learning.
The center is also seeking grants to help with its STEM initiative, which Byndom said he’d like to include a lab where students can learn. He also wants to upgrade the center’s technology in such a way that it will be viable longer than three years.
He estimates that will cost $1 million.
“We’re really trying to be innovative in how we address the needs of our students,” Byndom said, especially at a time when the program’s finances are in such a challenging position.
In the future, Byndom wants Urbana Adult Education to be able to place students into internships to give them hands-on experience while earning a high school diploma or another credential.
He wants the program to combine academics and vocational learning for all students, to help them develop the skills they’ll need “and a passion for life-long learning.” This will give them options as they plan their futures, he said.
He also wants to offer more brush-up classes for students in subjects like English and rhetoric to prepare for college-level classes.
Next year, Urbana Adult Education will partner with the University of Illinois College of Education and the Illinois Humanities Council to host the Odyssey Project. Byndom continues to coordinate the project, which offers free college courses for community members who fall near or below the poverty levels within Champaign County. It provides free tuition, transportation, books, child care and even food for students involved.
Byndom said he also wants to work with other community partners, such as Parkland College, on programs that make students college and career ready. He’d like to offer Parkland dual-credit classes at Urbana Adult Education.
He sees Urbana Adult Education as a community-building program, and said through the program’s capital campaign, he envisions that “each person who donates becomes an ambassador for Urbana Adult Education.”
“We want community members to feel they can contribute,” he said.
Students who have attended Urbana Adult Education in the past have gone on to do great things, and Byndom said he wants to continue to share those stories with the community, and show how its students’ successes are good for the whole community.
“With support from the community, I think we will be able to improve the quality of instruction and the quality of students,” Byndom said.
Urbana Adult Education will celebrate its 50th anniversary with an open house later this month.
It’s scheduled for 3-6 p.m. Oct. 30 at its facility at 211 N. Race St., U.
The open house is also its official kickoff for its capital campaign, “Invest in our Future of Unlimited Pathways.”