April 25, 2020 — The COVID-19 emergency has touched all parts of American society but has been particularly difficult for the education sector. The local school districts have cancelled on-campus classes for the remainder of the school year, as have higher education institutions such as Lane Community College (LCC).
Students have been given assignments to complete during the shutdown, but there is a growing concern that the long-term educational prospects for this generation of American youth may suffer lasting deficits due to the pandemic.
This unusual set of circumstances has come at a time when LCC is asking for the support of the community by voting to approve Measure 20-306 in next month’s special election.
LCC’s bond is a request for $121 million, which will be used to fund safety and security updates, seismic retrofitting, expand health professions and workforce training programs and to modernize classroom technology throughout the district.
If passed, the bond measure is estimated to increase property taxes $0.12 per $1,000 of assessed value, to a rate of $0.34 per $1,000 of assessed value for the bond debt. Property taxes would increase by about $3 a month or $36 a year for a property assessed at $300,000.
LCC Florence Center Dean Russ Pierson shared his observations on the impact of the COVID virus, as well as his hope that voters will approve Measure 20-306.
“Enrollment is down in Oregon community colleges statewide as we navigate the COVID-19 health emergency, including LCC, and we expect that the state’s contribution to higher ed funding will also be down significantly because of this crisis,” Pierson said.
He said that educational offerings at LCC’s satellite centers in Cottage Grove, Florence and the Eugene-Springfield metro area have been “severely but necessarily limited in spring term.”
“For example, because of social distancing measures, we literally can’t run any on-site classes. Nearly all of our employees across all our campuses are working from home, continuing to adapt and provide services to our students, while all of our classes have been adapted to remote technologies,” he explained.
Pierson next pointed out that there are some aspects of the way in which LCC can increase its ability to serve students, which will be significantly enhanced by passage of 20-306.
“Paradoxically, there has been a silver lining in all of this for our Florence students. They have suddenly had nearly the entire catalog of Lane classes available to them right here in Florence, and the playing field has been leveled since all of our students have, for the time being, become remote students,” he said.
For Pierson, this is all part of a larger discussion about online learning and the need to expand professional and technical training of all types
“In many respects, this has been a wake-up call for all of us in higher education. At LCC, we’ve been working hard to reduce the friction in our enrollment processes and to consider ways we might continue to utilize some remote technologies going forward. And that really is great news for all of our Siuslaw region students, as well as for our faculty and staff in Florence, since we may be able to ‘originate’ educational programming that becomes available throughout our district and not just always look to be the recipients of such programming,” he said.
Bond dollars would provide updated learning spaces and technology for several programs, including advanced technology and cybersecurity. Additionally, LCC would qualify for a matching $8 million state grant to construct a new building to allow for expansion of health professions programs and LCC’s Dental Clinic.
The opportunity to offer more of these types of classes has increased as the use of digital learning platforms becomes more wide-spread and familiar to students and faculty, according to Pierson.
“One of the things I am most excited about is the scope of the bond that directly enhances the capacity for CTE (career-technical education) training in some of the trades that are most expensive to teach,” he said. “This could be a mobile CTE lab that will bring the expensive equipment — that can’t be readily replicated at our satellite centers — right here to Florence. Welding, fabrication, these and some of the other highest-paying jobs in the trades will begin to open up to our local students without having to trek to Eugene for these career training opportunities.”
Workforce education, which is slated to receive $77 million upon voters’ approval, makes up the vast majority of the bond’s expense. Money will go to expanding manufacturing and technology programs to include food processing and advanced wood products manufacturing and create a mobile welding and manufacturing lab. It would also be used to expand the Maxwell Student Veterans Center to allow for increased access and referrals for student veterans to medical, dental, mental health and affordable housing resources.
Pierson wanted the community to know that while his concerns are currently focused on his serious responsibilities as dean, he is also optimistic about the future and how higher education is essential to the growth of Florence.
“No one knew the incredible difficulties we would all be experiencing in this season when Lane determined to ask our voters for this funding, but in at least one respect, this current crisis represents the things that community colleges can do best,” Pierson said. “In the wake of the Great Recession, LCC’s enrollment district-wide increased well over 40 percent between 2008-2012, as many, many people who had been displaced or stuck in low-paying, entry-level work determined to ‘upskill’ and access our programming to invest in themselves and their future.”
Pierson’s assessment of the challenges presented by the COVID crisis also included a simple but important guarantee to local residents.
“None of us know what the future holds, but I do know LCC is here in this community for the long-term, and we will be prepared to do our part to train our residents and help reignite the economy of the Siuslaw region,” he said.
For more information about Lane Community College, visit www.lanecc.edu.