Studying at Blue Mountain Community College means juggling which bill gets paid first for business major Jaime Follett.

A large percentage of students attending BMCC are people seeking a cost-effective way of beginning a four-year college education or people returning to school to train in new fields.

Unless family can help, or student aid or grants are available, most students must carefully watch their pocketbooks to achieve their educational goals. But cuts to the BMCC operation because of state funding woes beg the question, are students getting the level of service they're paying for?

Administrators, members of the board of directors and community program partners think so, but they see a need to streamline programs to make them more cost effective.

Faculty members, who are on the front line of servicing students, think the continued cuts are making it much more difficult to provide a quality education.

Students want to see the programs and classes they need at BMCC continued, and affordable.

"It's important for us to receive our educations," Follett said. "But with the cuts and how much it costs anymore, it's becoming harder to justify coming to school."

Student concerns

Ever since Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 5 in 1990, BMCC and its fellow community colleges have had to deal with an ongoing state funding shortage.

The measure reduced property tax rates across the state over a five-year period, and required the state's general fund to make up the resulting shortfalls in primary and secondary public school funding. As a result, all of Oregon state government, including higher education, faced deep budget cuts.

BMCC's funding resources flipped. Before Measure 5, local support made up 50 percent of BMCC funding through a local tax base, and the state supplied 20 percent of funding. Federal and other funding made up the rest.

Now, because property tax goes to the state first and is doled out based on a funding formula implemented in the late '90s, BMCC's state support makes up 50 percent of the budget, and local support makes up 20 percent of the budget. BMCC encounters the same public funding crunch felt by other publicly-funded institutions around the state.

BMCC has had to close several programs and classes. By summer term, students will pay $57.50 per credit - an all-time high for the college that serves Umatilla, Morrow and Baker counties.

As programs are shutting down around them, some students get a little nervous about their own classes or programs, said nursing student Elizabeth Brown.

"There's more stability at a larger university than at the smaller ones, like BMCC," she said.

Taking classes from instructors worried about their classes and jobs, and watching administrators forced to cut the budget again and again adds to the anxiety of students, Follett said.

Quality Control

Instructors feel that with each cut being made, quality suffers, said Ken Eddy, a chemistry instructor who is retiring after 31 years at BMCC.

Under presidents Wally McCrae and Ron Daniels, instructors felt supported in making their classes the best they could be, Eddy said.

"We've invested a lot to make this school as good as it could be," he said. "We put a lot of ourselves into this."

Replacing full-time instructors with part-time instructors to save money and maintain opportunity leaves behind quality, he said.

"The focus of the college has changed," he said. "It's a conveyor belt that charges as much tuition as possible."

That won't encourage student enrollment growth, said Stan Prowant, geology instructor at BMCC.

"Parents, I'm sure, are giving it a second thought," he said.

Prowant won't recruit students anymore either, he said, because "we don't know what we'll be able to offer next year."

Conrad Thomason, a former history instructor at BMCC, said because the faculty doesn't play a major roll in curriculum decisions, liberal arts are disappearing beneath the new business-like management of the college.

"If attitudes don't change and programs aren't reinstated, BMCC is going to be on par with the technical schools advertised on mid-day television," he said.

Juggling Act

Everyone who contributes to the educational process at BMCC wants to see its quality maintained, said Board Member Dave Gallaher. Everyone wants to see students receive the best educations they can get at an affordable price. But faltering state support has put BMCC in a difficult situation. It's vital to think about costs while ensuring BMCC offers the programs needed for transfer students or to garner the training needed for the workforce.

"We have to retain the quality education that BMCC provides," Gallaher said. "But there is going to be some pain in the process until times get better. It's hard to be real rosy about the future at times like this."

When Travis Kirkland was hired as BMCC's president, he knew he was getting into a tough situation. At his first board meeting, he requested the board take 11 positions off the table that were slated to be filled.

Since then, the board has agreed to make three large slices from programs and personnel.

Deciding what to cut hasn't been easy, Kirkland said. The administrative cabinet has brainstormed where BMCC can cut and what needs to stay based on the number of students involved and how much programs cost.

Some faculty members disagree with the approach, but Kirkland said the college must look at itself as a business.

"We have to offer students, our customers, what they need and when they need it," he said.

Expensive programs with low enrollments or a low demand must go if it means maintaining high quality in a program that has a higher demand, he said.

The same goes for classes aimed at helping students reach their transfer degree, Kirkland said. If closing a Shakespeare class means maintaining writing courses required for the transfer degree, it must be done, he said.

"It's a matter of survival," Gallaher said. "We have to determine what really are the things that reach the most consumers, or students. We have to scale back the things that don't reach as many."

Community Partnerships

Determining what programs to keep also depends on what the community asks for, Kirkland said.

BMCC offers on-site training for companies like Simplot. Doug Barrak, of Barrak & Associates in Hermiston, said sending employees in for business classes has improved his business in general.

BMCC offers college-level courses to high schoolers who want a jump on their college educations, need to take adult-education skills or earn GEDs (general equivalency diplomas).

But partnerships with those entities must be maintained to sustain those programs, Kirkland said.

High school instructors teach those in-house college-level courses. BMCC makes sure the class and the teacher meet college requirements, and BMCC receives the head count, which directly affects state funding, Kirkland said.

The partnership is vital to students and to the K-12 realm of education as well, said Jann Tresham, Hermiston High School vice principal in charge of curriculum.

"All of education, K-12 and higher ed, are dealing with funding issues, so severe that those are services we've come to count on," she said.

The partnerships help create more workforce opportunities in the community as well, said Leslie Carnes, director of the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce.

BMCC recently received a $14,754 grant from the Wildhorse Foundation to establish a hospitality and tourism management program.

"That's so huge for this area," Carnes said. "(Hospitality is) a growing economic engine for Pendleton."

Community Communication

The community supports the college and its programs, said Mickey McClendon, a math and computer science instructor at BMCC for 33 years.

The community is willing to fund education. But the community can't say it with a special operating levy or like it did years ago by voting on BMCC's budget every year, he said.

"Their hands are tied behind their backs," McClendon said. "(The state's funding model) gives them no choice."

Getting community entities involved in the educational process is vital to the college and its students, Kirkland said.

"We're like a fish," he said. "If we don't have community support, we die."

But it's just as important to keep the community informed of what it needs to help maintain high-quality education programs, Carnes said.

"BMCC is multi-faceted and serves so many constituents and customers," she said. "They have a lot of balls to be juggled. But at the same time, if they don't tell the community what's going on, they don't know how to help. All they see is frustration up there."

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