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Working to get sufficient funding for community colleges is a priority, after that, a long agenda

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Lisa Skari, president of Mt. Hood Community College, spent her first few months listening to different stakeholders and what they want to see from the college. Lisa Skari, has completed her first 100 days as president of Mt. Hood Community College, and has spent the time listening to students, faculty, staff and the community and diving into the workings of the college. She's now beginning to launch some changes at the school.

"Things are starting to fall into place," Skari said.

But, before she can get to strategy and making improvements, she's joining with other community college leaders in Oregon to secure an adequate funding package from the state to head off big tuition hikes.

The basic budget Gov. Kate Brown announced in November cuts the funding to community colleges by 4.7 percent, Skari said.

"To fill that gap we'll have to raise per credit tuition by $18 per credit the first year and $22 the second year," she said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MT. HOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE - Mt. Hood Community College students talk with Skari earlier this fall. Shes working for better state funding for community college to avoid tuition increases. That's a $270 per quarter jump in tuition or $810 per year for a full-time student.

Skari was in Salem in mid-December with two local business leaders who sit on the MHCC Foundation board, trying to convince legislators to fund what she calls "democracy's colleges" more fully.

Community college executives are working together "on the messaging on the ask and on how to communicate the impact this (budget) will have" on students and communities, she said.

In another hit to community college students, Brown's base budget does not fund the Oregon Promise, which gives free community college tuition to many recent high school graduates. MHCC had 726 Oregon Promise scholars this fall.

"Anything they (the legislature) do to affect cost, affects access" to higher education, she said.

Regular business

First up on Skari's regular agenda is to reestablish a single instructional leader at the school. A 2016 restructuring at the college divided those responsibilities in two.

A national search for the new instructional leader will begin in early 2019.

"We are hoping to advertise in late January," Skari said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MT. HOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE - Skari chats with a community member at a recent Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce meeting. Skari is also involved in another big effort to take a deep dive into the data on MHCC and its students.

"We're looking at the data to start a conversation and then become more intentional" about programming at MHCC.

"Who are the students that are performing well and where are the students that aren't?" Skari said.

Skari wants to analyze the achievement numbers to see which groups are successful and which need more help. Her team will look at male and female, Latinx, African American, students who receive need-based federal Pell Grants and other groups.

"We'll be looking at where the struggles are and what we can do about it," she said.

Last spring, in public forums for candidates for the MHCC presidents job, Skari discussed her goal of increasing the number of faculty and staff members of color at MHCC. That is part of how community colleges serve the diverse communities that attend them, she explained.

She worked on this effort at her former employer, Highline Community College, in Des Moines, Wash.

"It takes a lot of time, but now, 35 percent of Highline's full-time faculty are people of color," she said.

Skari and her staff plan to attend two job fairs in California where she was successful in recruiting staff members of color to Highline. She has already made some key staff hires.

Passing a bond?

Skari is also exploring the feasibility of putting another facilities bond before voters.

"We've got a lot of work to do before we do that," she said.

Skari is considering doing some polling and she and her staff will further analyze why the recent attempts to pass a bond failed.

Voters turned the college down twice in its bid for a bond, first for $125 million in May 2016 and then for $75 million in May 2017. The bond funds would have been used to make security and safety upgrades and build a new Workforce and Applied Technology Center, to house cutting-edge programs in manufacturing, automotive technology, welding and other skilled career programs.

Skari, formerly a top executive at Highline, became the 11th president of Mt. Hood Community College on July 23, 2018, at a salary of $201,000.

Skari, who has worked in community colleges for 26 years, replaced Debra Derr, who retired. Skari said that like Derr, she also plans for MHCC to be her final career stop. So, at 53 years-old, she has another 15 years to helm the state's sixth largest college.

Prior to joining MHCC, Skari was the vice president for institutional advancement at Highline. She worked as the executive director for institutional advancement at Highline before becoming vice president.

Skari earned a Doctor of Education degree from Washington State University, Pullman, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Pacific Lutheran University, Parkland, Wash.

She started her career in retailing, working mainly at the now-defunct Lamont's department store. And despite her success, the career wasn't fulfilling to her. So, she added degrees and began teaching in the fashion and merchandising field at Highline, working her way up to the highest ranks of administration.

Skari has a full plate of initiatives and items on her to-do list.

She said: "It seems like on the one hand I've been here forever, and at the same time I feel like I just got here." OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSONS - Skari has worked in community colleges for 26 years and came to MHCC from Highline Community College, in Des Moines, Wash.

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