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Dec-02-2008 01:32printcomments

Despite the Rhetoric, Community Colleges Slated for Sobering Cuts

Community college leaders across the state will begin conducting the necessary processes at their local levels to identify how the losses will be accommodated in their individual schools.

Lynn-Benton Community College students graduating
Lynn-Benton Community College students graduating

(SALEM, Ore.) - Governor Ted Kulongoski released his budget today in an address that spoke to "continuing to improve our education system from pre-school to graduate school" and "getting Oregonians back to work."

In a bewildering mismatch of rhetoric and reality, he recommended a community college support fund appropriation of $485 million, an actual decrease of $15 million below the current appropriation, which already doesn't fund existing increased enrollments.

At the time when more Oregonians are out of work and most need training and education to get our economy moving again, community colleges will have to make program and service cuts, limiting access for Oregonians most in need.

"I'm having a strong sense of déjà vu," said Oregon Community College Association Executive Director Andrea Henderson.

"In 2003 when Oregon's economy tanked and our citizens were out of work, cuts to community college funding forced reduced access to job training programs across the state. While in his speech the Governor sounded like he wanted to avoid that scenario, his budget actually reduces the colleges in real dollars – not just current service level funding."

The budget the governor has proposed for community colleges will undermine his own stated goals of putting Oregonians back to work and keeping our educational system whole. Community college leaders across the state will begin conducting the necessary processes at their local levels to identify how the losses will be accommodated in their individual schools.

Adding to the problem, declining property tax revenues mean that the only place colleges can turn to avoid deep service cuts is tuition. "Raising tuition just slams the door in the face of a laid-off worker," Henderson said. "Even with available financial aid, the numbers don't work without a state investment in the community college support fund."

Enrollments have grown by double digits at many colleges across the state this year. Typically demand increases throughout a recession as more companies lay off workers. With real cuts to community colleges, the gap between demand and funding will widen.

With adequate resources, Oregon's community colleges can put people back to work in these industries. Community colleges offer many short-term programs, many under a year, in areas where employers are hiring, often before students finish their programs.

These programs, which include training for jobs in health care, renewable energy and manufacturing, are in jeopardy under this budget. In the state's most recent economic forecast, health care and manufacturing were reported as two of the only industries growing in this bad economy.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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