With potential funding cuts to state colleges looming, officials on Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Illinois Public Community College Act, which provided for state financial support of Illinois community colleges.

At the event at Joliet Junior College, State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, who chairs the higher education committee in Springfield, said lawmakers still recognize the importance of community colleges in Illinois.

He said many who attend community colleges stay in Illinois as police officers, nurses or teachers in their communities.

“The men and women who earn a degree here, they do strengthen our community,” McGuire said. “They strengthen our nation.”

A proclamation recognizing the importance of community colleges that was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner was presented during the event. It read that nearly 74 percent of Illinois employers have hired a community college student and that nine out of 10 community college graduates remain in Illinois to work earning an average of $570,000 in their lifetime.

But State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, highlighted Rauner’s proposed 31 percent cut in funding to higher education.

While he said the governor’s proposal would not cut funding for community colleges it would affect community college graduates in the Southland who planned to transfer to Governor’s State University.

“We just have to get the higher education bill passed,” Hastings said. “It’s one of the remaining budget items that hasn’t been court-ordered.”

GSU, on its website, said that money it receives from the state has shrunk by 13 percent in the last five years, and that it has the smallest appropriation of all public universities in Illinois. The University Park school is making the transition to a four-year university.

Sylvia Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, said state funding makes up about 9 percent of her school’s revenue.

“We need every revenue source we can possibly receive to make sure we can keep tuition low,” she said at the event.

But she’s worried about potential cuts to the state-funded Monetary Award Program grants which she said many students at Moraine Valley rely on.

Jenkins said enrollment, so far, for the coming school year is down by about 8 percent at Moraine Valley and she thinks that might be because students have not received their MAP grants.

But she’s hoping more students register before classes start next week.