Ending workforce training is a tough and timely topic for two-year public colleges still compensating for pandemic-spurred enrollment declines. Although these outcomes can be controversial, they are made after an exacting vetting process and hopes of a future revival.
For example, criminal justice and computer science will no longer be offered at Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) after the end of the academic year. Enrollment and state funding shortfalls left a $2.5 million hole that could only be filled by cutting the two courses, notes LBCC President Lisa Avery.
“In the past, some programs were reduced because they weren’t current, or were being eclipsed by technology,” Avery says. “The decision here was clearly fiscal. The premise is these programs are all valuable, but they are not affordable. So, where can we find $2.5 million when cost of instruction has outpaced state assistance?”
Oregon’s community colleges are struggling to balance their budgets after losing substantial enrollment dating back to the start of the pandemic, Avery says. According to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, LBCC enrollment dropped nearly 30% from 2018 to autumn 2022.
Alongside plans to remove programming next year, LBCC cut three full-time library faculty positions. On the academic side, students enrolled in eliminated courses have the opportunity to finish their degree over the next 15 months. The college also implemented a 5% tuition increase beginning this year.
Program carve-outs are not due to poor performance, adds Avery. In the case of criminal justice, a significant need for new local law enforcement lessened the importance of obtaining a college degree. Computer science, meanwhile, was weighed down by the cost of paying seven full-time faculty.
“We received input from labor groups and our industry partners, but this was an administrative decision,” Avery says of the cut programs. “It was on the executive team and myself to make the call on which programs we’re going to get us (past the funding shortfall) with the least negative impact on students.”
Low turnout an issue
Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pennsylvania is removing eight courses from its engineering curriculum due to low student turnout, says CCAC Interim Chief Academic Officer Stephen Wells.
Among the programs proposed for deletion are engineering science, civil engineering technology and computer-aided design. CCAC is offering a two-year teach-out for the nearly 70 students affected by the move. Although the programs remain in the CCAC catalog, they are not accepting new participants.
The college’s engineering certification portfolio had already undergone a shakeup due to low enrollment and a skillset unresponsive to evolving employer demands, Wells says. Transfer partners such as Carnegie Mellon University and Point Park University — both strong engineering schools — required Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) standards not currently provided by CCAC.
Additionally, outdated facilities and equipment needed upgrades even as participation continued to drop.
“Last spring, we offered 22 engineering programs, with 13 having fewer than five students, and only five programs had more than eight students,” Wells says. “Transfer students were finding other ways to skill up outside our courses and were not getting the skills from us they needed to work in the industry. We have strong enrollment in our automotive and HVAC courses, but the engineering certifications did not have much interest.”
CCAC has an extensive program review process accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Curriculum is evaluated based on withdrawal and graduation rates, with completion figures for engineering in the single digits for the last decade. Despite subpar participation, the college will teach out its remaining engineering students through May 2025.
Faculty is exploring new engineering technology courses that would align with emerging programs at a $43 million, 60,000-square-foot campus workforce development center that opened in October. New engineering curriculum would ideally support programming around mechatronics, additive manufacturing and building automation systems.
Reinstating engineering on a larger scale would be a “happy ending” in light of recent difficult circumstances, Wells says.
“We are working to recast those programs into shorter-term certificates with more overlap,” he says. “The curriculum would not be as diluted as it was previously. We would have two or three certifications that students could get through in 18 months.”