Ending the 7 career specialties will slice enrollment by 182 students, administration estimates

COURTESY PHOTO: CORWIN BENEDICT FROM THE ADVOCATE  - Instructors and staff held signs at the Dec. 4. Mt. Hood Community College Board of Directors meeting to protest the proposed elmination of seven career programs at the college. Mt. Hood Community College's controversial move to cut seven career programs would save the school $800,000 and make a dent in the institution's deficit spending.

The MHCC Board of Education learned Wednesday night that the controversial "revitalization process" would likely cost 11 instructors their jobs and cut enrollment by about 182 students.

"This is a difficult reality for us to face and not one we take lightly," Lisa Skari, the college president told the board.

The programs the administration proposed to terminate are cosmetology, environmental health and safety, automotive maintenance and light repair, business technology, practical nursing, broadcasting and wilderness leadership and experiential education.

These programs are relatively small. The college would still offer automotive programs such as its Subaru U, and other medical programs such as the nursing program connected with Oregon Health & Science University.

The driving force behind the proposed program eliminations is a budget crunch at the college.

MHCC, like other community colleges, has seen a cyclical drop in enrollment over the past decade as the economy surged. With fewer students, there is also less tuition. As early as March, the college realized budget cuts would have to be made.

"These are not easy decisions," Board Chair Diane McKeel told The Outlook.

Lack of funding by the state is a big factor in the cuts McKeel, Skari and others said.

"The state isn't funding community colleges sufficiently," McKeel said, noting that community colleges are getting about the same funding as 20 years ago.

"The state is focusing on K-12 (schools) and I support that, but the state does have to step up for community colleges," she said.

Skari told the board that many other cost cutting measures are being looked at as well as ways to boost revenue.

There is also a secondary reason for the proposed cuts. 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.

The meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4 was a work session for the board. At a work session no public comment is taken and no votes are cast.

The November announcement that the seven programs would be axed drew well over 100 protesters to a November 20 board meeting. More than 75 faculty, students, graduates, employers and community members spoke on behalf of the seven programs. Some were brought to tears.

The speakers at the Nov. 20 board meeting criticized the college's process of coming up with the cuts as not being transparent. Some of the faculty in the programs were stunned that their courses of study were to be eliminated. Some speakers argued the data used to make the proposed cuts was not accurate.

One board member questioned why so many people seemed to be blindsided by the proposed cuts.

"I would take responsibility for any gaps that occurred with communication," Vice President of Instruction, Al McQuarters told the board.

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

The faculty union wrote a letter to the board and Skari on Dec. 3 asking "the College administration meet with the key individuals within the seven programs and work with them to address whatever 'shortcomings' led them to be placed in the phase out category."

The 61 programs reviewed were classified as either maintain, grow, modify or phase out.

The seven were targeted to be phased out. The rest were placed in the "modify" category, meaning those programs will be adjusted to improve enrollment, retention and cost effectiveness for the college. None were classified as "maintain" or "grow".

McQuarters said the next step, "the modification conversation, is starting now."

The Board of Education must vote on the elimination of any program. Although board members asked for more information on the "revitalization" plan, chair McKeel said the board wants to stick to the Wednesday, Dec. 18 date for the vote.

"That's still our target date," she said.

Board member and former instructor, LaVerne Lewis, said "We have a lot of work to do" to keep this college open and serving the community. "It's not going to close on my watch."

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