ONTARIO — Community support of Treasure Valley Community College and its students was a topic that came up more than once during a town hall Thursday focused on the school’s future.
The Snake River Room at Four Rivers Cultural Center was filled on Thursday with people from the community looking to listen, learn and provide input for administrators of Treasure Valley Community College during a community town hall.
The town hall was sponsored by the Malheur Enterprise, along with co-sponsors Ontario, Nyssa and Vale chambers of commerce.
The aim: for the community to provide input so the community college can “best service students, business, and the community in the future,” according to an announcement for the town hall.
During the open forum, Yami Gonzalez, vice president of the associated student government, said students want the local community to embrace them more and they sometimes don’t feel that appreciation.
College President Dana Young, after the town hall, said that Gonzalez’s remark was something she has heard from students before — mostly from those living outside the Ontario area.
“Students love the college, but the community experience they feel is meh,” Young said.
It’s a lack of connection many students have with the Ontario community specifically, she went on to say.
This idea was mirrored by comments from John Breidenbach, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, who said that he receives many calls from TVCC parents saying that there is a resistance from landlords of rental properties in the Ontario area to allow their children to live there.
He also asked if businesses in the Ontario community did everything they could to welcome these students when they first arrive.
“Do we as a community really support it [the college]?” Breidenbach asked.
History and financing
Four administrators from the college and board chairman Mark Wettstein spoke to a packed crowd during the town hall.
After a welcome from Malheur Enterprise publisher Les Zaitz, Wettstein gave some historical context for the college in its role in the Western Treasure Valley community. Its humble beginnings were in the fall of 1962 with classes at Ontario High School, “for anyone who wanted to learn,” Wettstein said, to a move to its own campus in 1965, and 50 years later where the college stands today.
Each speaker was given 10 minutes, but when Wettstein finished his remarks with a minute to spare, he said he wanted to clarify to the public what role exactly the board plays with the college.
“We’re a policy board,” he said. “We only have one employee: President [Dana] Young.”
He added that the day-to-day operations of the college are not managed by the board, but rather by Young in her responsibility as president of the college.
Kevin Kimball, interim vice president of administrative services, was the next speaker, tasked with providing basic information on the college’s finances, where it has stood and where it stands today.
Despite the college “always talking about the general fund,” Kimball said, it is actually not the college’s largest of the seven funds that make up its budget.
That goes to the financial aid fund, budgeted at $22.4 million, Kimball said, and the money in that fund is what goes to students who apply for financial aid, such as when a student fills out his/her Free Application for Federal Student Aid before enrolling into a college or university.
Revenue and retention
An even greater emphasis was placed on the college’s revenues and where that actually comes from.
According to Kimball, 58.1 percent of the college’s revenue came from the state of Oregon in 1997. In 2015-16, that percentage now sits at 41.9 percent.
In fact, Kimball said, 80 percent of the college’s revenues come from enrollment. This is because the state of Oregon funds community colleges based on the number of enrolled students. If enrollment decreases, so does state revenue, Kimball said.
Coupled with the decrease in state funding, the college also is suffering from a drop in enrollment for the past few years.
While college revenue has increased 4.3 percent in the last 10 years, expenditures have increased 4.8 percent in the same span, according to Kimball.
Getting students into a TVCC classroom has been the focus, but also in retaining those students, quarter to quarter and year to year.
Interim vice president of student services, Michelle McKay, is in charge of recruitment efforts for the college. She said that there are six recruitment strategies the college implements. Those strategies include facilitating targeted recruitment, collaborating with college constituents, being intentional in outreach and recruitment events, nurturing K-12 relationships, developing strategic partnerships with the community and implementing retention strategies.
McKay also tied much of the college’s enrollment to the state of the local economy. When jobs are hard to come by, adults will go to school to learn skills that can make them more competitive in the workforce. When jobs are available, adults are less likely to be going to school, McKay said.
During the open forum, a suggestion for the college from the public was for its recruitment to really start focusing on a broader audience than just the typical 18 to 25-year-olds. The point made was that community colleges can cater to more than just outgoing high school students and to those adults looking to return to get some schooling.
But other perspectives were provided by current TVCC students on ways to possibly improve enrollment.
The first suggestion, provided by TVCC administrative senator Fernanda Orgel, was for the college to have more of a presence outside of the Western Treasure Valley. The promotion would bring in more students from outside the local community, she argued.
Overall, however, comments from the public were positive about what the college provides, with some expressing concern about where the college is going to go in the next 20 years and onward.
Some ideas the college will be looking to implement in its planning, Young told the audience, include finding ways to keep youth in the community, doing a better job at promoting, and finding more opportunities to connect together the community and the students.