Joliet Junior College Trustee Candidate Alicia Morales Interview
Alicia Morales is doing what she loves. She is helping students achieve their dreams and working hard to make Joliet Junior College the best it can be. The previous Joliet City Council and District 86 Candidate feels right at home at Joliet Junior College and is running to retain her seat on the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees.
Guzman: Welcome Alicia Morales and thank you for taking time to speak with us today. You were appointed to the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees in October 2015. What was the state of Joliet Junior back then and what is it now?
Morales: Thank you very much for having me Angel. It was an honor to have been appointed to the JJC Trustee Board back in October of 2015. What drew me to apply for it is because I love Joliet Junior College and I love students. I love being of service. Back then, the state of the college appeared to be in a very good state. I didn’t know we were at the brink of going into somewhat of a financial crisis. We are not doing too badly because we’ve positioned the college to be very fiscally responsible. JJC wasn’t in bad shape at all. When the State of Illinois announced we weren’t receiving any more funding we did feel the pinch but it was something that was still manageable for the college. However we didn’t know how long it would last and now, considering the duration and by looking at the forecasting, with all of the uncertainties we really have to buckle down and identify new sources of revenue to be able to continue with the strategic plans that we have in place or we have to modify our strategic plan. Currently the state of Joliet Junior College is a bit uncertain but very manageable.
Guzman: What were your initial priorities upon your appointment and have they changed?
Morales: My priorities have not changed. My priorities initially have been to ensure that the underserved, under represented people of District 525 needs are being met. By that, I mean the people that fall through the cracks. We have many people that want to continue their skill set in hopes to get a promotion or maybe even just get a job. For that we need to start with the basics. They need to start with a GED. They need to start with English classes. People really do want to learn English; however, the classes are extremely inaccessible and nonexistent at JJC. People want to integrate, but there are not simple steps to take in learning “where” to go or “who” to call. In my 45+ years of living in Joliet and being involved in the community, I have noticed that it is very complicated for people that don’t know the language and don’t know how to go about preparing for the GED, that Joliet Junior College has not been accessible for decades. It’s been complicated and the “process” does not need to be complicated. It’s something that should be very simple and the administration at JJC needs to reach out and meet people where they’re at; at the current level prospective students are in at that moment. We don’t have to over complicate things for them. There’s too much red tape just to get a GED. That’s the perception people have when they approach me, as a member of the community, to express their frustration. People often say, “Hey, I want to learn English but no one is helping me on how to do it, can you show me the steps?” People want to know what is step 1… step 2… step 3, etc. That is still a problem to this very day. So to answer your question, No, my priorities have not changed.
Guzman: Joliet Junior College earlier this year opened a new building in downtown Joliet. Is that building exclusively for Culinary Students or will it also provide a wide range of courses and programs including GED and adult education?
Morales: The Culinary Arts Program is going to be housed in the City Center. We are trying to draw more traffic into the downtown area. By offering different venues with menus so people can come in try the food that the students are preparing and to give them more visibility. That is the largest program being housed in city center campus; but it is not the only program. The Renaissance Center all of the programs currently being held there are going to move into the downtown building.
Guzman: Would you like to comment about the recent untimely death of your friend fellow Joliet Junior College Trustee Sue Klen?
Morales: Oh my goodness… I’m still in shock! I recently met Sue during the time that I have been on the board. She served for six years. People that I know that know her have only positive things to say about her. She was very bold. She was very passionate and loved all students. She fought hard for the underserved and underrepresented students. She was a big advocate of making sure that the DACA students’ needs were being met. She ensured they were all on the same playing field and that scholarships were available. She was just a very fair person and a risk taker. She was loved by so many. I am deeply, deeply hurt she is no longer with us. It’s a void we can’t fill. I’m just really hurt that she is not here. She literally died being a servant leader as her name is still on the April 4th ballot!
Guzman: The Joliet Junior College Board raised tuition in 2016 and recently raised tuition again this year on March 14th. You were the only Trustee to vote no. How do you feel?
Morales: We did raise tuition a year ago. It was raised by $10 a credit hour which was a very high increase. I don’t understand why we had to do it again this year. The President says she’s already cut over 1 million, but, she cut things out that are simply recorded on paper but were never spent, like positions that have not yet been filled. We did not cut transactions that have actually been completed and recognized; therefore the cuts were basically hypothetical. There were uncertainties since the state withheld the State MAP grants and the uncertainties exist again this year. We really shouldn’t be spending what we don’t have. We didn’t have to raise tuition if we managed and realigned our existing budget in a smarter way. I am completely against this huge tuition increase. Why do the students and their families have to bear the brunt of it…again? All we’re doing is forcing students and parents to borrow more money to pay for college.
Guzman: What do you see as the future of Joliet Junior College? What are the strengths and weaknesses of JJC?
Morales: The strengths are that we offer a diverse set of courses and programs. We prepare students for law school, we prepare them to be electricians, we prepare them to be nurses, etc. Students can prepare to be ANYTHING they want to be you can be at JJC! They will get a solid foundation at JJC. That is our strength and that we are welcoming to students from all walks of life from the traditional high school senior to the nontraditional 30, 40, 50 year old that wants to come back to learn a new skill set like Microsoft office, word, excel, power point, etc. We can be anything students want us to be. In terms of downfall, and one of our weaknesses, is that there are opportunities to increase our overall enrollment; however, I don’t think we are making this a priority. For example right now our African American enrollment is really, really low and it’s very worrisome to everybody. I’m positive there is more that we can do. We can do more target marketing for specific ages and for specific programming to recruit and retain the African American community, and the same for Latino enrollment. We have to be more specific with who we are targeting. I think we have forgotten about the early school leavers at the high school level by where, for whatever reason, are not finishing high school. There are several thousand students in our district that are not graduating high school. When you look at the graduation levels there is a gap of 15-20% that are not graduating and I don’t think we are specifically targeting those students to bring them into our programs. We need to work closer with the high school to get these students to graduate and set-up for success not failure!
Guzman: What do you like to do for fun?
Morales: I’m very family oriented. I love to spend time with my family, my nieces, nephews and granddaughter. I spend time with them tutoring them helping them with their homework. I like to volunteer a lot with different organizations. I just signed up to be a big sister to see if I can mentor somebody. I like to spend time with my pet. Believe it or not pets are very needy too.
Guzman: According to Joliet Junior College’s website District 525 serves over 650,000 residents in 7 counties. In what towns and cities do voters have the opportunity to vote for Alicia Morales?
Morales: There are 36 cities in Will County and Will County is one of seven. Most of the votes will be coming from Will and Grundy Counties. Voters can vote for me in Joliet, New Lenox, Mokena, Frankfort, Wilmington, Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Plainfield, Morris. Pretty much anywhere.
Guzman: Why should voters vote for Alicia Morales for Joliet Junior College Trustee for a six year term?
Morales: Voters should vote for Alicia Morales because I am looking out for the little guy. I’m looking out for the student that has a dream, the student that wants to gain some additional skills so they can get the job they want or promotion they are looking for and just need those extra skills. That’s who I’m looking after…the little guy. JJC helped me make my dream a reality and I want to help others make sure that their dreams are also fulfilled. I want education that is affordable so they do not have to take out a ton of loans to attend Joliet Junior College because they shouldn’t have to get into a lot of debt to attend our school. My goals are to continue to provide transparent services and that our administration and staff is willing to go the extra mile to make sure the student experience is a positive and successful one!