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College board of directors will learn more about courses facing ax at Dec. 4 meeting

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Mt. Hood Community College proposed eliminating seven career-oriented programs, which brought more than 100 protesters to a recent Board of Education meeting. Mt. Hood Community College will reveal details of the controversial plan to eliminate seven career-oriented programs at a board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4.

The announcement earlier in November that seven programs would be axed drew howls of protest from faculty, students, graduates, industry professionals and community members.

The programs on the chopping block are cosmetology, environmental health and safety, automotive maintenance and light repair, business technology, practical nursing, broadcasting, wilderness leadership and experiential education.

Lisa Skari, in a wide-ranging interview, said there were two main pushes behind the "revitalization process" that led to the recommendation that the seven programs be cut.

First, the way community colleges are accredited is changing Jan. 1. There will be more emphasis on student achievement. The college needs to make sure every program offered will satisfy the new accreditation standards.

Second, MHCC, like other community colleges, has seen a cyclical drop in enrollment, and thus tuition revenue, as the economy has surged. As early as March, the college realized budget cuts would have to be made.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - College president Lisa Skari said she wants to keep the college financially stable so it can continue to educate students for a variety of professions.

"At that point, we knew we would be doing budget cuts this year and last," Skari said. "There is one thing I would like to address and that is that this (the proposed program cuts) isn't upholding our mission. I respectfully disagree. Community colleges were established to bring higher education to the masses.

However, she added, "you can only spend a dollar once, and our responsibility is to have the greatest impact with that dollar. The reality is that with higher education enrollment, colleges do well in recessions and not well when the economy is doing well. These enrollment challenges are not unique to Mt. Hood Community College."

She emphasized "our responsibility is to make sure this institution is financially stable."

A top priority of the board of directors "was to keep tuition as low as we possibly can," Skari said.

The board directed that if cuts were necessary, the school should "prioritize high enrollment and high completion programs that were financially sustainable." The board also wanted to promote equity and access, especially in historically disadvantaged populations.

The college created an Action Team, reporting to the Institutional Effectiveness Council, which included full- and part-time faculty, support staff and three deans.

"They were charged with coming up with the process and a timeline" for the "revitalization process," Skari said.

The action team was formed to evaluate the various academic programs and completed their work at the end of June.

The college analytics and institutional research department then began compiling the data about the programs. An outside consultant called Emsi, a labor market analytics firm from Moscow, Idaho, gathered the employment data for the evaluation of the programs. 

Faculty reviewed the data and provided a narrative, which was used in the analysis to classify programs as maintain, grow, modify or phase out.

Skari said of the 61 programs that were reviewed, seven were targeted to be phased out. The rest were placed in the "modify" category, meaning those programs will be adjusted to improve course fill rates, retention and cost effectiveness for the college moving forward. None were classified as "maintain" or "grow".

On Friday, Nov. 8, faculty and staff learned how their programs were classified and some said they were stunned by the news.

Skari admits she was surprised that some of the college's faculty seemed blindsided by the announcement that seven programs were proposed to be cut and the others modified.

"I think I expected the action team to also disseminate information," she said.

Not all stakeholders were involved in the "revitalization process." There were no students, graduates, community members or employers included on the committees.

"No, they were not involved in the process development or the evaluation," Skari confirmed.

But they showed up at the Nov. 20 board meeting. More than 100 people turned up there, waving signs and challenging the proposed cuts.

More than 75 people spoke to the board, defending the seven programs. They criticized the process, a perceived lack of transparency, and the data used in coming up with the cuts. Many said the industry salary information used for the evaluations was too low for several programs.

Some choked up with emotion as they pleaded with the board to save a program. Current students in the seven disciplines would be able to finish their programs and certificates or degrees, but they spoke for future students who would not have the same opportunities.

The Mt. Hood Community College District Board of Education must vote on the phaseout of any program. That vote is not expected until the Wednesday, Dec. 18, board meeting or later.


Want more details?

The Mt. Hood Community College Board of Education will hold a work session at 6:30 Wednesday, Dec. 4, in the board room, AC 2359, at the college, 26000 S.E. Stark St.

This is a work session for the board. At a work session, no public comment is taken. The board also does not vote on any items.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, the board will get the report on the "revitalization plan" to cut seven-career oriented programs. They can ask questions of the college President Lisa Skari, Vice President of Instruction Al McQuarters and other administrators to get more information.

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