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MHCC is resorting to the easy fix by proposing the elimination of seven academic programs. But the easy fix almost certainly will haunt the school in any future effort to pass a bond measure.

If Mt. Hood Community College ever hopes to pass a bond measure to fund much-needed facility improvements, it needs to make better choices that inspire public confidence.

However, the college's recent clumsy proposal to pull the plug on seven academic programs isn't helping in that regard.

All of these programs — cosmetology, environmental health and safety, automotive maintenance and light repair, business technology, practical nursing, broadcasting and wilderness leadership and experiential education — do a good job of preparing students for future careers.

Several key issues are at play as the college considers these course eliminations.

First, the college was unsuccessful at convincing voters in 2016 and 2017 to approve facility improvement bond measures. Consequently, the college is using money raised through tuition to patch the roof, rather than shoring up its academic programs.

Second, though Oregon's community colleges asked for better funding from the Legislature, they were only partially successful.

Third, the small boost in state funding wasn't enough to prevent a tuition increase. In order to keep tuition as affordable as possible, the college opted to make up the difference by proposing the elimination of these programs.

It's easy to sympathize with the college's financial reality.

But sympathy only goes so far.

All of these academic programs are necessary conduits along these career paths.

The Wilderness Leadership program, for example, offers national certifications in swiftwater rescue, technical rope rescue and wilderness first response. These skills are in demand and lead to jobs that pay well and support families.

The one-year certificate in practical nursing puts 24 to 32 graduates a year to work in clinics, hospice programs, home health care, long-term care facilities and other places, according to Linda Fleshman, director of the practical nursing program at MHCC.

The cosmetology program is a gem, providing an alternative to private vocational schools, while preparing graduates to pass the Oregon State Board Certification exam.

The proposal to eliminate these academic pathways looks more like an admission of defeat against the spector of financial hurdles, rather than a bold roadmap to future success.

Instead of eliminating these courses, the college would have been better served by aggressively advertising these programs in a serious effort to bolster enrollment.

In other words, eliminating these programs will only drive down enrollment and reduce tuition revenue. The immediate savings on program costs will be eclipsed by long-term damage to the school's reputation.

Yes, it is true that the Legislature has not been generous in its support of community colleges. Local and statewide lawmakers should get serious about making community colleges a high priority for funding during future sessions.

Yes, it's true that MHCC needs to pass a bond measure, which will position the college to overcome the burden of throwing tuition dollars at aging buildings that need renovation and modernization.

But no, throwing in the towel isn't the solution.

Patrons of the MHCC district will see this move as an erosion of the college's core value as the provider of important job skills. These same patrons will be hard pressed to lend their support during future bond elections. Some people who voted yes in the past may even go the other direction.

MHCC is resorting to the easy fix by proposing the elimination of these programs. But the easy fix almost certainly will haunt the school in any future effort to pass a bond measure.

— The Outlook


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