LBCC changes bring changes to Lebanon

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

Linn-Benton Community College has experienced some big changes over the past couple of years, which affect what it’s doing in Lebanon, LBCC President Dr. Lisa Avery said last week.
The college announced Feb. 16 that the Sweet Home Center, located in the Sweet Home High School complex since 2004, was being closed, citing a “dramatic” decline in use and changing student needs.
Kristin Adams, chair of LBCC’s Board of Directors, acknowledged that offerings at Lebanon’s branch, located at 44 Industrial Way, have been “skeletal” compared to pre-pandemic days.
“I knew it was coming, sooner or later,” said Adams, who is well-versed in the subject as Sweet Home High School’s Success Coordinator, tasked with helping students move beyond high school to college or successful careers.
Avery, who arrived at LBCC in July of 2020, said that since the COVID-19 pandemic the college has been faced with a number of challenges: the effects of the pandemic on education, including a decrease in interest in taking college classes – at least in brick-and-mortar facilities, and legislative budget cuts.
“We’re trying to figure out how to creatively respond to the changing higher-ed market,” she said.
“We’ve had to think differently about how we do it because students are wanting more flexibility and more remote” – particularly, she added, from students who already have jobs.
LBCC has seen a dip in enrollment in “career technology programs” such as welding or machining because employers are willing to train novices just to fill vacancies, Avery said.
“They’re begging people to work right off the street, to pay them better money than they used to, and they don’t have to have a degree. There’s more advancement if you’ve got a degree or a certificate, but the job market is tough, because you can make $20 an hour at Panda Express by my house.
Avery said enrollment numbers have actually picked up after the pandemic, especially among high school students who have figured out that dual-enrollment – taking college classes in high school, can significantly cut college education costs.”
She said that in Lebanon “dual credit numbers are up and there are a plethora of remote options, whether it’s, like, one class or a whole program that they want to do.”
She said that, following the pandemic, students interested in transferring to four-year schools are returning, but acknowledged that enrollment numbers at LBCC were declining prior to 2020. According to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, tasked with overseeing how the state’s community colleges and public universities are performing, since 2012, the 17 community colleges have lost a combined roughly 42% in student enrollment.
According to HECC, Linn- Benton had 9,614 total students in 2012, followed by declines each year to 5,911 in 2021, during the pandemic. LBCC’s 2022 enrollment total was 6,057, according to the agency.
“We’re doing almost as much face-to-face (instruction) as we were doing pre-pandemic,” but the college is adding conveniences such as over-the-phone tutoring, class registration and advising.
Still, she added, “we’ve tried to keep some conveniences and enhancements, but LB is not going to be a massive online college.”
“We will try to give people some flexibility on all the other stuff, but you’ve got to come to class, in one way, shape or form. Our students need to connect to faculty in the classroom.”
The changing dynamics have-n’t affected everything the college does. The automotive technology and diesel programs at the training center on Oak Street in Lebanon are packed, Avery said, as are some programs offered by the Healthcare Occupations Center located next to COMP-Northwest medical school.
“Nursing is full, phlebotomy is doing OK, X-ray, etc. People are realizing that there’s a need for workers and the wages are pretty good and they’re getting signing bonuses. So that helps, because phlebotomy isn’t a very high wage, but it’s, like, a $1,000 signing bonus. And I think it’s a 15-week program.
“So for us, that’s a good pathway to the middle class,” she added, noting that one of LBCC’s goals is to help students improve their lives.
She said a good option for some students is to qualify in one specialty, then take more classes and move up the ladder while they’re working.
Plus, Avery said, the changes that have been brought about by new technology and by the pandemic have resulted in student and employer interest in remote employment, which the college is positioning itself to meet.
“We’re working on a new program where we would help people have a remote job in health care,” she said, adding that the details are still in the works. “You do an online program and then you can have a remote job – billing, coding, back-office. We’re working on that and Samaritan is pretty happy to help us get more people through in any of the health occupations, honestly.”
She said the college has realized there’s a growing demand for short-term certificate training and credentials.
One example, she said, is a new Class-A commercial driver’s license training program offered by LBCC in collaboration with the Knife River Training Center on Kennel Road in Albany, part of the college’s Extended Learning program. Classes run every five weeks for three weeks plus two days, all day, Monday through Friday. The program began six months ago, Avery said.
“It’s pretty hard to get into, because there’s good money in it, right?” she said.
Also, she said, there are plans to start training in electrical vehicle repair.
“If they’re trained in EV, there’s some suggestions that there will be good jobs down the road.”

Financial Woes
Oregon’s community colleges are struggling financially, as the Legislature appears to lean toward more support for K-12 programs and the state’s larger universities.
An audit of the state HECC, released by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office in December, found that Oregon ranks low in student completion rates and recommended that the HECC improve how it monitors student success, evaluates the effectiveness of student support and academic services, and that it issues regular reports to the public and the Legislature on community college sustainability.
HECC Executive Director Ben Cannon responded by stating in a letter to the Secretary of State’s Audits Division that while he agreed, he said his agency may lack the authority, staff and resources to do so.
Because of the HECC’s role as a coordinating agency, Cannon wrote, it doesn’t have the authority to compel community colleges to act in certain ways. That’s unlike other state agencies, such as Oregon’s Department of Education which does have the authority to set specific rules and policies for public K-12 schools.
Avery said she expects community colleges to see “a significant cut” from the Legislature this term, adding that she planned to spend the next three days in Salem.
“That’s a double whammy because we serve the most vulnerable students and we’re not well-funded,” she said. “There’s like a $105 million delta between what we think our current service level needs are and what the governor has proposed. You know, for 17 colleges, we’re a bargain.”
The pandemic exposed “a pretty fragile safety net” for community colleges, Avery said.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t have a lot of resources. I don’t like when that gets made into ‘it’s only urban versus rural or black versus white.’ There’s a lot of Oregonians who are struggling. And I don’t think that policy is figured out yet, how to patch that back together.”
She acknowledged that the community colleges “need to work together better.”
“We’re not as well-aligned as we could be,” she said, noting that an area that particularly she believes needs improvement is transfer credit to four-year state schools from local community colleges.
“If I have an 18-year-old and if she takes a class at LB, it should count at OSU.”
Community colleges, she said, are getting some “pressure on that” from legislators, but “it should be happening anyway,” Avery said.
“If we don’t fix it, the Legislature will help us fix it.”
But it’s going to cost money, she added.
“I know there’s a lot that needs funding (in the state). I just hope that they, you know, find some coins in the couch cushions because it’s not going to serve the state well, in terms of workforce.”

Social Costs
Avery said she’s worried about the decline in young men moving on to college or careers, particularly since the pandemic.
“The value of education needs to be front and center in people’s minds and not dismissed,” she said. “So I think that, whether it’s to train workers or to have an educated citizenry – they’re both important. I think that’s gotten a little bit lost.”
She said it’s important to keep costs affordable.
“There are ways to be creative and do it a little cheaper,” Avery said. “We have to raise self-sustaining people. And that means finding a way for them to get to work.”