Mt. Hood Community College cuts seven academic programs
In a controversial decision, the Mt. Hood Community College Board voted 4-to-3 to eliminate seven career-oriented programs at the recommendation of the college president.
"This is probably the worst thing a college president has to do," a somber Lisa Skari, president of the Gresham-based community college said after the vote.
The seven programs to be cut are: cosmetology, environmental health and safety, automotive maintenance and light repair, business technology, practical nursing, broadcasting and wilderness leadership and experiential education.
When the vote was taken, and the fate of the programs sealed, at least one student at the board meeting broke out in tears. Many others attending the Wednesday, Jan. 15, board meeting seemed resigned to the outcome.
"I feel sad that the college is being so shortsighted," said Marty Castellanos, an instructor in the cosmetology department.
Directors voting against the cuts were LaVerne Lewis, James Zordich and Kenney Polson.
Board Chair Diane McKeel, Diane Noriega, Andrew Speer and Annette Mattson made up the majority that voted for the cuts, albeit reluctantly.
Several directors said the state was not sufficiently funding community colleges. Some said they did not want to have to raise tuition, making college unaffordable for some students.
Most of the programs being eliminated are relatively small ones. The college will still offer automotive programs such as its Subaru U and other medical programs, such as the nursing program connected with Oregon Health & Science University, for example.
But, Karen Johnston, owner of Gresham's All About Automotive, argued that the auto maintenance program being cut takes less time to complete than the other auto programs that the college offers and lets students quickly get skills at less expense that can land them a family-wage job. The program, she said, had a 100% placement record.
The cosmetology program is the only one in the state that offers an associates degree along with the professional credential.
But, the college is operating at a $2.8 million deficit. Cutting these seven programs will save about $800,000, the college estimated.
The programs employ 11 faculty. The college estimated it would lose about 182 students because of the cuts.
"We have had funding challenges and they've been kicked down the road," President Skari said. "I want to make the college strong and I don't want to go through this again."
Students, faculty, graduates, staff, local employers and community members spoke passionately for more than five hours over two board meetings in favor of keeping the programs and giving faculty and staff more time to come up with alternatives.
No one spoke in favor of eliminating the programs.
Many criticized the data used to justify eliminating the programs and said the process was not open or transparent.
"I've never experienced a process so rushed with data that was so flawed," Kim Sharer, president of the classified employees union told the board Wednesday night. "I really thought Mt. Hood was better than this."
Students enrolled in the seven programs will be able to complete them, but none of the programs will accept new students and will be phased out.
At an earlier meeting, the board of education also discussed the possibility of across-the-board cuts. To make up the deficit, every department at the college would have to cut 3.6% from its budget, administration officials said.
As early as March, MHCC realized budget cuts would have to be made. Committees met about possible cuts and money-saving actions.
Nonetheless, many people, including faculty and students in the seven programs, seemed to be blindsided by the November announcement of the proposed cuts.
Not all stakeholders were involved in this "academic revitalization process." There were no students, graduates, community members or employers included on the "revitalization" committee.
MHCC, like other community colleges, has seen the usual cyclical drop in enrollment over the past decade as the economy surged. When jobs are plentiful, fewer people attend college for training and credentials. With fewer students, there is also less tuition, worsening the budget crunch.
Other community colleges nationwide are facing similar issues. The Seattle Times reported that Shoreline Community College might shutter its popular and competitive dental hygiene program.
MHCC's 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. No program was classified as "maintain" or "grow".
The college is beginning the process of evaluating the programs in the "modify" category.
The college is also evaluating non-instructional programs and services to identify areas of improvement and cost savings.
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