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College administrators point to a decline in enrollment

Facing a projected 7 percent decline in enrollment for the 2014-15 school year, Mt. Hood Community College has been forced to reduce its general operating budget by more than $3.3 million.

That accounts for about 4.6 percent of MHCC’s more than $69.3 million general fund operating budget.

The budget cuts include the elimination of 16 full-time positions announced this week: six through layoffs, two through retirements and eight that were already vacant, said Al Sigala, executive director of MHCC’s foundation and alumni relations.

Ironically, it’s the improving economy that’s causing the downward trend on enrollment at MHCC; as more people find employment, fewer pursue new job skills.

“Our reality is fewer people are going back to school,” said college President Debbie Derr. “It’s a reflection of the economy. We are examining data and looking at all the factors.”

Derr said the difficult budget cuts were made “on the basis of how best to continue to meet the mission of the college at a lower cost.”

With a decline in enrollment comes lower tuition revenue, exacerbated by a decrease in state funding over the past eight years. During the 2007-08 school year MHCC received $2,778 per student, while it receives $2,008 now.

Derr began her career at MHCC in 1987 and spent 15 years of her career at the college before moving to the Midwest. Since taking the helm of MHCC as president last summer, Derr said she has been astounded by the increasing levels of poverty in East County.

“So many students who come to us have been chronically unemployed or underemployed,” she said, noting the cost of education versus employment possibilities.

Derr said there’s been a philosophical shift in community college since she began her career. Students are not sticking with two-year programs or seeing the potential employment possibilities that they used to, she said.

Whereas community colleges used to emphasize themselves as launching pads for four-year universities or additional training, today they emphasize work force opportunities, along with teaching basic adult skills, English as a Second Language (ESL) and credit recovery.

The college now has a focus on gaining students and retaining the students it has through program completion, Derr said. It is also trying to strengthen partnerships with local businesses that may employ students in the future.

In addition, the college is trying to increase its grants to expand program opportunities and donations to help with student aid and facility upgrades.

She described the “wraparound services” MHCC is employing to retain students and offer a little extra TLC. They include resources such as an orientation center, the AVID program, Future Connect, job fairs and career coaching.

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