Lane faces mission conflict; the elephant in the room can no longer...

Lane faces mission conflict; the elephant in the room can no longer be ignored

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Penny Scott
Editor-In-Chief


Lane’s current financial operating shortfall stands at around $5 million. Fall term saw an increase in class sizes and another hike in the cost of tuition. Continuing to balance the college budget in these ways can only lead to fewer enrollments.

At the time of the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 10, enrollment was down 26.4 percent from the same time the previous year. By the meeting on Jan. 14 enrollment was down 16.3 percent.

Lane has been incrementally increasing tuition for years, resulting in the college becoming one of the most expensive of the 17 community colleges in Oregon. Now, with larger class sizes, students are paying more and getting less. For students who draw the short straw and find themselves in overloaded classes, Lane is becoming a bad bet.

It’s time to entertain what some would consider unthinkable. At the very least it’s time to reevaluate everything about the college. Can and will Lane morph into something different? Does it need to? It’s high time to take a serious look.

At the December board meeting, the elephant in the room could no longer be ignored. When Chairman Pat Albright expressed his commitment to Lane’s mission of being a comprehensive college, Lane president Mary Spilde responded that this may no longer be possible.

Offering a wide variety of programs is a worthy mission. Unfortunately, this may be a luxury the college can no longer afford, and teachers and students alike are paying the price. If something doesn’t change, Lane is at risk of failing in its primary mission of student success; for some, this is already happening.

A college’s greatest gift to students is teachers of high caliber, of which Lane has its fair share. However, when teachers are overworked they can’t they give students proper individual attention. Worse still, they are at serious risk of losing their edge; we simply can’t afford to let that happen.

The biggest losers are the students. To have a teacher who is otherwise great and who cares deeply, but has no time for students and can’t even remember their names is a tragedy. I fear that’s where we’re headed. At the December meeting, board member Rosie Pryor said “I am a big believer in the comprehensive mission of this organization. I am not interested in chopping off arms and legs, and I am not interested in panicking, but I am interested in a full and robust discussion of options and alternatives and choices, and I’m not afraid of having that conversation.”

Such a conversation would have to include careful examination of data about all college departments gathered without prejudice or favor. It would require that a diverse group of people with open minds look into all college matters. This, I believe, is the most reasonable and intelligent project that the college can undertake at this time.

It’s unthinkable to cut off limbs; we all know that. It is, therefore, important that those entrusted with investigating the college’s programs, departments and finances do not find the notion of reducing programs or departments abhorrent. The reason is simple: Strongly held positions are the antithesis of serious open investigation. Sadly, reducing programs or departments would mean some people would lose their jobs, and it would mean that some Lane residents would need to go elsewhere for an education in their chosen fields. Trying to be all things to all people, on the other hand, is a recipe for weakening or even losing what we have.

At the January board meeting Spilde announced that state funding for Oregon community colleges will potentially increase from the previously anticipated $500 million to $535 million, or even go as high as $550 million. “It’s still not enough,” Spilde said.

Even though President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community colleges free could be a game changer, it would require the Republican controlled Congress to get on board with the idea. Therefore, the proposal is by no means a slam dunk.

In the interim between the two board meetings, it’s possible that the default rate problem was solved, enrollment has increased by approximately 13 percent, state funding has potentially been increased by $35 million, and Obama put forth a proposal that has huge upside potential.

These are positive developments. However, they are no reason back off from having the robust discussion Pryor suggested a month ago. Every week that goes by, students and teachers are paying a price that is not their to pay. Student success must prevail, not later, but now.

The heart and soul of Lane is its remarkable teachers.

Lane teachers have provided me with good solid instruction in various subjects, and they have nurtured, encouraged, inspired, challenged, enlivened and entertained me. In stark contrast to my high school experience, where I was bored out of my mind, my success at Lane is a direct result of the dedication of my teachers.

I readily admit to my strong bias in believing that teachers are the linchpins to student success. An important hallmark of higher education, however, is open discourse and the exchange of ideas. So I invite teachers, students, college administrators and staff, in fact anyone, to join in this important conversation.

January saw unexpected good news. But none of it is actual or enough to turn the tide, so Lane needs to be prepared and ready to act decisively.

Is Lane attempting to serve two masters? Given the choice between the mission of remaining a comprehensive college and the mission of student success, which would you choose? Are these two missions mutually exclusive `if the government doesn’t save the day? Is there a creative solution that can keep the college intact? Or, should the college prepare to downsize?

Let’s talk about it.

 

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