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Community college says vacant jobs, programs with low earning potential will go first

Community college campuses across the Portland metro region are bracing for job cuts and program reductions.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Anissa Rodriguez studies at the PCC Sylvania Campus on Monday, April 1. The community college has announced a series of cuts as the Legislature debates a reduced or hold-even budget for 2019-21.   In anticipation of insufficient state funding, Portland Community College executives are implementing a 3 percent budget cut across the district.

"The college recently completed a critical part of its budget development process, whereby all areas of the college were asked to reduce budgeted costs by 3 percent to mitigate PCC's budget shortfall of nearly $14 million," said Kate Chester, a spokeswoman for PCC. "Such reductions, and any that we will continue to make, mean that some positions, programs and services are being or will be eliminated, phased-out (often based on workforce needs), or reassigned."

Chester said the college has yet to see what its actual funding will look like in the next biennium, but based on budget projections, the college likely will eliminate or reduce about 50 positions.

Here's what that will look like, according to current plans:

• Eliminating 30 positions that are currently vacant, or will be by July.

• Cutting 11 jobs that are currently filled.

• Eliminating six additional permanent jobs that are currently filled by temporary employees.

• Reducing four jobs.

• Cutting another two jobs by 2021.

In addition to cutting jobs, PCC will scrap some of its program offerings, particularly those with low enrollment, or "limited earning potential."

A computer applications and web technology, or CAWT, program that has seen a steep decline in enrollment since 2014 will be cut districtwide. At the Sylvania Campus, programs in dance and dental lab technology will be scrapped.

Chester said the college will continue to offer its in-demand computer science and computer information systems programs.

Cutting the CAWT program will mean getting rid of three associate degrees, three certificates and five career pathways certificates. The program was recommended for elimination by district leadership and cabinet members.

"The recommendation for closure was not taken lightly due to the size of CAWT," Chester said.

In that computer program, college officials noted jobs reflect a high-end median hourly wage of only $16.42, according to state labor data. Additionally, positions in the field often require no college degree.

PCC operates four campuses in Portland and several satellite centers that focus on job training and specialized programs.

PCC declined to release further details about the positions being cut, citing employee privacy.

At the Sylvania campus in southwest Portland, campus officials offered a host of listening sessions for staff members. Other campuses throughout the district will host similar sessions.

"Rather than across-the-board cuts in every division and department, we chose to be strategic about where we applied reductions, understanding that budgeting is not one-size-fits-all," Lisa Avery, Sylvania campus president, said in a March 22 letter to colleagues.

She emphasized that an administrative team met to consider where to eliminate jobs and programs, using an equity lens, to ensure minimal impacts to students.

"Vacant roles were considered first, then temporary positions, followed by conscious decisions to make reductions in all employee classes, including management," Avery said. "When eliminating positions we attempted to avoid layoffs whenever possible."

The cuts come as community colleges around the region are calling on state lawmakers to funnel more funds into postsecondary institutions (see editorial, Page A6). The Oregon Community College Association — which represents all 17 community colleges statewide — is asking the state for a base budget of $647 million, with an additional $70 million for career and technical education programs and another $70 million for student success programs, to be spread among all the schools.

Community colleges have been critical in providing workforce training programs and connecting students to higher education that they otherwise wouldn't pursue, due to costs or other barriers.

Programs such as a maritime welding training center offered by PCC provide one of the only pathways to a high-earning, in-demand labor field.

PCC says it's trying to ensure that the budget shortfall doesn't fall on the backs of students, through tuition hikes. Tuition and fees currently make up about 40 percent of the college's budget.

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