In Building 3 on Lane Community College’s main campus is a modestly-decorated corner office with wide windows that overlook Bristow Square. The office is adorned with small personal touches, like a wooden relief of an abstract figure carved by Italian furniture craftsmen hanging on one of the walls. A nursing degree from Widener is displayed behind an immense frame over an L-shaped wooden desk. A shelf packed with books about management, economics and college education rests just under a wall of windows. A round table stands in the center of the room, a copy of the Register-Guard Blue Chip business magazine lying in the middle of the table. And at this round table sits Dr. Margaret Hamilton, President of Lane Community College.
Hamilton, an excitable native of upstate New York, started her term as President on July 1, 2017, after Mary Spilde’s retirement. Her 29-year career in higher education has carried her to colleges from Pennsylvania to China. Prior to Lane, Hamilton served as Vice President of Academic Affairs at Camden County College in southern New Jersey, which placed her in charge of over 25,000 students at three different campuses. At CCC, Hamilton curated several partnerships between the college and local businesses and played a key role in staunching declining enrollment. Hamilton sees this prior experience as vital to her attempts to reverse Lane’s own declining enrollment. Hamilton laid out her vision for the college’s future while acknowledging its current struggles.
“I’m a new president, so I’m still learning,” Hamilton said. “But, as I learn the needs, I must deliver. I must go out and help the people, give them the resources, help them reorganize and help them become more efficient.”
Hamilton’s background as a healthcare provider potentially makes her an ideal leader for a community college whose nursing program is ranked fifth in Oregon. To her, the nursing program represents one of Lane’s greatest investment opportunities.
“I am super proud of our nursing program,” Hamilton beamed. “They have something like a 98 percent pass rate on their boards, and it’s just astounding.”
The growth of Lane’s nursing program has also led to greater interest from local health organizations including PeaceHealth, the largest employer in Lane County.
“That’s what we want, we want to work with business and industry,” Hamilton said. “So, it could be a welding program, we want people who hire welders to say, ‘How can we help you?’”
As Lane faces declining enrollment – Winter term saw 8,195 credit students enrolled, down from 8,804 during Fall term – Hamilton knows that she will have to make some adjustments in the coming years.
“You don’t come in and just try to balance a budget,” Hamilton explained. “What you do is try to come in and look at the whole organization and look for, I use the term ‘efficiencies.’ You have to step back and think, ‘maybe we could do things better.’”
Though the college has faced program cuts in the past year, those were initiated by the Board of Education and former President Spilde. Thus far, President Hamilton has not made any major decisions regarding the operation of the college, though she did admit that she’s looking into some of the most pressing issues facing Lane in the coming years.
“There are better ways to do everything, but that doesn’t mean you have to come in and change things for the sake of change,” Hamilton said. “But when I see us running continuously at a deficit and continuously watching enrollments go down, something’s wrong. It’s going to take some analysis to figure out why.”
Hamilton did hold high praise for several LCC programs. She lauded “one of the most vibrant international programs” as an example of departments on the way up at the college, and shone a light on the job-training programs available to students.
“You have to go with what you know, do with what you do best,” Hamilton said. “We’re very good at healthcare, we’re very good at technology and we’re very good at home manufacturing.”
Though President Hamilton has decades of experience in college administration, a small anecdote revealed a personal connection to the community college experience. She pulled out a black-ink caricature of her mother in full cap-and-gown and told the story of her mother’s journey to earn a college degree at age 60. Their entire extended family was there to watch the matriarch walk across that stage; that image has been burned into Hamilton’s mind ever since.
“This is what keeps me going, this and a thousand other stories.”