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Community college budget cuts stem from lack of investment

If you want to know the future of community colleges, look at Oregon. Budget shortfalls have plagued the system statewide for at least the past five years. As a result, community college budget cuts are the order of the day. They mean reduced student services, faculty and staff layoffs, and program cuts.

Linn-Benton Community College will lay off 11 faculty members at the end of the current academic year. Among the cuts are the full-time librarians at LBCC. While the school promises that the library will remain open, contractually, full-time librarians must carry out some library operations. That includes making decisions about what enters and/or remains in the library collection. Without a full-time librarian on the payroll, these decisions won’t get made.

LBCC will close some academic programs, including its computer science and criminal justice programs. It will also cut the budget of its Adult Basic Education program. The computer science program offers five degrees and one certificate program. The degree programs are designed largely as transfer programs to a four-year university. Computer science employment in Oregon is substantial, although the average annual salary in most disciplines is lower than the national average. The criminal justice program includes two two-year degree programs and one certificate program.

Community college budget cuts are the natural result of failing to invest regularly in the development of new academic programs. Academic program development doesn’t come cheaply, and it is not a short process. Community colleges can spend $2M-$3M to develop and launch an authentically new occupational education program. That assumes the program requires research and development, specialized space, specialized equipment, qualified instructors, etc. Genuine investment in the development of academic programs does not involve banging on the existing course catalog to produce yet another recombination of previously developed classes.

Oversight could prevent community college budget cuts

I would go as far as to say that if the institution is not investing $2M-$3M in new course development every year, someone is not doing their job. Community colleges are like any other ongoing endeavor. If they’re not investing in the core mission and they do not have an active research and development plan for new mission-centric products and services, they’re coasting. Inevitably, the ride will come to a complete stop. And it should come as a surprise to no one.

So, when all the money that the institution should have been spending on new program development has been diverted to administrative growth, executive salaries, incentives, and bonuses, and side projects that end up draining the General Fund, that’s a failure at the highest level of the institution. And I’m not talking about the Administration, because administrators are going to do what they do. It is up to the Board of Trustees to ensure that this kind of failure does not happen. And this happens when the Board of Trustees isn’t doing its job.

Photo Credit: Emily Mills , via Flickr