In 1962, our community took on the courageous challenge of opening one of the first community colleges in Oregon. In the nearly 60 years since Blue Mountain Community College first opened its doors and began serving students, much has changed. The college has celebrated triumphs and weathered challenges. The past year has brought about a particularly challenging time for our faculty and staff, students, and the communities we serve.
BMCC is working to address the issues that most rural community colleges in 2021 face: enrollment decline, budget challenges, poverty and COVID-limited contact. Despite these challenges, and what you may have read elsewhere, BMCC is committed to being your college and meeting the needs of the communities we serve. Failing you is not an option.
As the interim president at BMCC, my agreement with the Board of Education is to address these issues openly, and with the campus team and our community partners working together to create a stable two-year budget. This step will ensure BMCC’s programs and services are strong and vibrant. In doing so, we will also become flexible and nimble to ensure the connections and the results increase.
So, yes, BMCC is experiencing significant transition and change to meet the current reality. The college will begin a search for a new president. The intent is to not pass on current budget challenges for a new president to handle. The college and its board of education recognize that for BMCC to continue to meet the evolving needs of its students and communities, it, too, must adapt. That means BMCC will change how we are organized, how we operate and how we partner. This can be a scary endeavor.
It can also be an opportunity.
BMCC has an opportunity to renew its commitment to students and the community while reviewing its internal organization and structure. It has an opportunity to serve students in new ways in a post-pandemic era that will see our economy in recovery and our local industries adapting to the challenges of the past year.
So how did BMCC end up in its current financial challenge? The answer is multi-pronged.
Like most community colleges across the country, BMCC has experienced enrollment decline for the past several years. This was exacerbated by the pandemic over the past year, which forced us into virtual learning, and became a major challenge for the hands-on Career Technical Education programs. In 2019-2020, the college received 31.03% from state funding, 32.38% from student tuition and fees, and 36.59% from local property tax revenue.
Many community colleges, including BMCC, have had to raise tuition to help cover costs. BMCC has also taken steps to reduce its expenses, reducing nearly $2 million for the 2020-2021 budget. These reductions were in materials and services and staff development, as well as a reduction of 24 positions. Last year had difficult decisions. The intent of the board is to make any additional reductions for the 2021-2022 budget so that the expenditures and revenues balance and the college is “right-sized” for the future.
How does BMCC do this? Through inclusive conversations with faculty, staff, students and the community. BMCC has already begun intensive work internally, reviewing department budgets, organizational structures, and potential revenue options. Nothing is off the table for discussion as we review budgets and options.
Now, a discussion does not necessarily mean all things change. A discussion means we learn, listen, and consider implications so that we can make informed decisions moving forward. We need a structural organization, plan and budget that is sustainable and provides students and the community with college programs and services that are stable and predictable, as well as flexible and nimble.
While this process will be challenging — and even heartbreaking — for many, BMCC’s faculty and staff are resilient. They have weathered past storms, and each time the college comes out stronger.
With these impending changes, there remains one constant: BMCC is committed to the students and communities it serves. Our administration, faculty, staff, and board are committed to strengthening BMCC so that it can thrive and be the affordable, high-quality educational option for Eastern Oregon. We are committed to working with local industries to put Eastern Oregonians back to work and reinvigorate our local economy. We are committed to being “students first.” And, just like when we first opened our doors in 1962, we are committed at BMCC to you — our community.
Dr. Connie Green is interim president of Blue Mountain Community College.