Dr. Frank Toda, president of Columbia Gorge Community College, is taking an energetic stance in response to recent proposed Oregon State budget plans that would impact CGCC’s budget significantly.
“It takes just as much energy to choose hope as it does fear,” he said. “Life is about choices, especially those we make in a crisis.”
Calling the collision of enrollment rises and proposed budget limits a funding “crisis” might not be too harsh a description.
Here are the front-line impacts at Columbia Gorge Community College:
From CGCC’s 2007-09 budget cycle to its current biennium, the college has seen an actual reduction of $1,442,877 in the state’s Community College Support Fund, equivalent to a 17 percent drop in revenue from that source.
During the same period, the college faced an enrollment growth of 28.68 percent.
The governor’s own ambitious education agenda suggested increasing statewide community college funding to meet those goals up to $510 million. Current proposed funding came $82 million short.
All 17 community colleges across the state are facing a similar dilemma.
Gov. John Kitzhaber released his recommended 2013-15 budget with the CCSF details on March 4. Total funding was set at $428 million. The Oregon Community College Association has projected $460 million in needed funding to keep existing programs and staffing, let alone reach projected statewide goals for community college education services.
The Ways and Means Co-Chairs Budget later aligned with the governor’s, leaving a serious uphill battle for colleges hoping for increased support.
Those legislative recommendations will translate, on a local level, to changes in programs and tuition rates for Gorge area students, said Dr. Ernie Keller, CGCC board of education chair.
According to Keller, the timing of the budget vs. enrollment imbalance appears particularly ironic given the critical role community colleges have been playing throughout the economic downturn.
Seen as an affordable option for job training, career redirection, high school completion, and as a four-year degree launch point, students of all ages have been turning to community colleges in record numbers.
While the budget is still under negotiation, CGCC is planning for the lowest projected funding level while hoping for a legislative change of heart.
Without an increase from the current proposal, this will likely mean increases in student tuition and some cuts to programs. The particulars are still in the planning phase, according to Keller.
“We have been very aggressive about seeking funding from business and industry to support our programs,” he said. “We are in a better position than most community colleges around the state.”
“CGCC is a dynamic institution. We are not going to just lay down in tough times,” said Toda. “But, we have to be practical. Taking a 17 percent reduction while accommodating a 28 percent increase in enrollment? ... The State needs to look at what it is asking its community colleges to do.”
While overall the proposed budget offers reinvigorated support to the larger educational picture, the college’s ability to charge tuition may have served to justify the proposed under-funding.
“I admire the State’s desire to put money back into the educational system,” said Keller. “Since K-12 can’t charge tuition and we can, we are being asked to do more with less and to raise tuition.”
With some exasperation Keller notes, “The governor’s 40/40/20 education agenda states that by 2025 40 percent of residents will have a four-year college degree, 40 percent will have a two-year degree and all adults over 25 will have a high school diploma. Given that community colleges are at the hub of those goals, it is kind of amazing that we are not getting the fiscal attention we should,” said Keller.
“Community colleges still remain significant economic drivers for our communities. Most legislators know the value of community colleges — how many jobs we have trained people for, how well we prepare our students — but they are busy and sometimes forget,” said Toda.
“This funding plan pushes us back to 2007-09 levels,” said Keller, who also sits on the Oregon Community College Association board. “This is really insufficient. We’d really like to see that support amount raised to, at minimum, $460 million.”
Both Keller and Toda, along with most community college administrators and boards, hope for public pressure on the governor and legislators to increase the budget affecting so many students and families in the state.
“At CGCC, we have great faculty, administrators and students. Together we have been able to squeeze miracles out of the dollars we receive,” said Toda. “I will choose hope and believe that Oregon will invest in education.”