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MHCC bond defeat will have costly consequences

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What happens when an earthquake drops an unreinforced building on students and college employees? Do we shrug and say, 'At least we saved $40 a year.'

FILE PHOTO - Mt. Hood Community College

"Disappointment" seems inadequate as a word to describe this week's election results on the Mt. Hood Community College bond measure.

This was the second bond defeat in one year for this institution, the first being the clobbering of a $125 million effort in May 2016, then this week's beating on a paired down request of $75 million.

MHCC supporters are collectively scratching their heads, wondering what has to happen before voters in the district will bow to the necessity of providing financial support to this important institution.

What happens when MHCC can no-longer adequately meet the needs of industries that depend on the college to prepare students for an increasingly technical job market? Do we surrender when those industries stop hiring locally?

What happens when an earthquake drops an unreinforced building on students and college employees? Do we shrug and say, "At least we saved $40 a year."

What happens when an armed assailant walks freely from building to building? Should we pass the responsibility on to someone else, saying "Guess the college should have done something earlier."

Judging from some comments on social media, you might conclude that this week's election hinged on the college library allowing students to make free copies of their term papers. Preposterous.

More than likely, this bond didn't pass for three primary reasons:

• First, voters are feeling pinched on their property taxes. In the Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds and Oregon Trail school districts (all within the MHCC district), voters have recently passed measures for major construction and remodel projects. The college bond would have added another layer to property tax debt, even though at a comparatively small annual cost. For some people, this measure may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. There will always be people who say, "No new taxes."

• Secondly, there is a belief among some people that college is a privilege, not a right. In that sense, they view community college differently than they view elementary and secondary schools. We heard that argument during the election: "I didn't go to college and I turned out alright," "If they want to improve the school, they should charge more for tuition." This argument doesn't take into consideration that rising tuition would exclude low-income people from seeking a higher education.

• Thirdly, some people aren't willing to invest in MHCC because they can't perceive a personal benefit. They may live too far from the Gresham campus to consider attending the school; they don't have children or grandchildren who attend the college; or they don't anticipate a time when they'll attend a class or seek training at the college. "There's nothing in it for me," they say.

Obviously, because The Outlook endorsed the MHCC bond, we take a different view.

A college degree — or post high school job training — is a mandatory step toward landing sustainable employment that earns a family wage. A college education is no longer a privilege, it's a necessity. Nowhere is that more true than in east Portland, Rockwood and other areas of East Multnomah County where thousands of people live at or below the poverty level and can't meet their basic needs. Making tuition unaffordable is not the answer for these people who are attempting to improve their lives for themselves and their families.

And everyone, to some degree, has gleaned a benefit from the college; through the rise in employment opportunities as businesses take advantage of the training opportunities at MHCC, and from positive change in the community that happens when you give people opportunities to improve themselves through education.

But we're back to the original question: What needs to happen before voters in the district will recognize the necessity of providing financial support to Mt. Hood Community College?

We know good people form the backbone of leadership at MHCC, and we know these people are feeling discouraged in the wake of this week's election. There are many others in this community who share their disappointment.

Collectively, the college and its backers need to swiftly move past this loss, and begin preparations for another bond measure. We hope those who voted against this measure will approach a third bond measure with a softer heart and open mind. And while they consider the cost of voting "yes," we also hope they consider the costs of voting "no."