BY LAUREN REEVES
Flights out from the cornfields to the Bay. Guzzling gas tanks. Endless popping potato chip bags bursting all over the backseat. Cramming bodies into small SUVs. Frantic hotel concierges. All of these are parts of the traveling process you as students could experience when you go on a conference trip in college.
McKendree University likes to make sure students are engaged in the classroom and outside. They even like to help sponsor trips to conferences to let students gain leadership skills and learn interesting things McKendree can offer. Some time or another, every student should experience what it is like to travel on behalf of McKendree, whether it’s for academics, sports or clubs.
However, what would it be like if your faculty or staff sponsor for your organization was not allowed to travel with you? Effective this spring semester, McKendree is really buckling down on expense budgets. Associate Dean for Institutional Effectiveness, Tami Eggleston, said, “Many budget managers were told to freeze or cut expenses that did not directly influence students.” This means that all expenses not directly used for or on students, like instructors who wish to travel with their respected organizations on McKendree’s dime, will need to be submitted and agreed upon by a committee. “All of the faculty who requested travel early were allowed to travel,” says Eggleston. “Some staff members who were going to mission critical conferences were allowed. A small number of faculty and staff were denied to help cut costs.”
McKendree’s decision to make the traveling process harder for instructors was a difficult one, but it stems from the decisions made by our state officials. “The state of Illinois is not currently funding the MAP grant,” remarks Eggleston, “and that, combined with some other challenges, are causing colleges across Illinois and across the country to have to balance budgets.” The pressures for keeping a balanced budget and not overspending is a hardship McKendree and other colleges will continue to face until Illinois officials figure out all of the financial issues our state faces. However, balancing budgets and making cutbacks like this are better alternatives for McKendree. With a heavy heart, Associate Dean Eggleston mentioned, “McKendree is very fortunate that we have not had to fire people, layoff people, or cut programs. McKendree has prioritized faculty and staff development for many years when other colleges cut these funds many years ago.”
McKendree not only cares about student development but also looks out for faculty and staff members. With a major cutback on travel, how do the students feel about their travel experiences with their respected instructors? Haley Ecker, who has traveled alongside her instructors for a conference said, “I would feel more comfortable going on McKendree sponsored trips if the instructor was present simply because of safety. Although we are all technically adults, I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable making certain decisions on my own and would rather have someone with more experience in charge.”
There is a sense of security that we all enjoy while on conference trips, but how would we feel if that security was gone? “If I went solo,” remarked Ecker, “I would have been extremely stressed out. I would be worried about getting lost, keeping in contact with the other students, and figuring out everything involving the hotel. Our instructors had been there before and were aware of how everything would work out, which allowed us to focus on and enjoy the conference.”
Many students feel the way that Ecker does. Another student, Natalie Correll, had similar feelings. “I think that students may be less likely to go on trips without an instructor because it can be a little daunting. I’m presenting a paper at a conference in Seattle in March, and, even though I have instructors and another student going with me, it is still a bit scary. I don’t know if I would have the courage to go alone.”
Though the process is now a bit harder than in past semesters, we hope that students like Correll and Ecker will never have to travel alone. Make sure you stay informed about Illinois financial activities and know that the MAP grant matters to educators as well as students.