LBCC Degree Debacle
After a 15 month wait, the last student left behind during the AAS Graphic Design degree termination of 2015 will finally complete a degree in visual communications
A Debacle in Retrospect
Events of spring 2015 left LBCC’s graphic design students wondering if the school had their best interests at heart.
On April 15, the 22 students enrolled in the program were informed that the degree they’d worked towards for two years did not actually exist.
Yet in essence, it did exist. Courses were offered, students attended classes taught by graphic design instructors, and worked in a large building dedicated to the program. Their degree was listed in the 2014-15 catalog.
But the AAS in Graphic Design was supposed to be in a “teach out” period, only educating students who had entered the program before its suspension in 2013 after a round of heavy budget cuts. According to administration, the degree should not have been listed in the catalog and no new students should have entered the program after spring 2013.
“It’s really a product of failure of internal communications,” said Greg Hamann, president of LBCC. “So we had different parts of the institution thinking and doing different things in regards to the program.”
The news shocked staff and students. Students wondered for most of spring quarter whether they’d receive the degree to which they’d been dedicating their lives.
“I felt like my time, my money, was being completely wasted,” said design student Doug Hibbert.
Initially, design students nearing graduation were offered an alternative: an Associate of General Studies, accompanied by a letter from the school assuring their education was primarily in graphic design.
“It matters that we get the degree we signed up for. Not only the degree, but the education,” said Hibbert.
Hibbert and his colleagues protested the solution vehemently.
“Taking the proof that we are Graphic Design students and changing us to a General Studies Degree? That’s like saying you just went through another four years of high school. It has absolutely zero worth in the working world,” said another student in the program who wished to remain anonymous.
Students were angry; they felt betrayed.
“I have a screenshot of Webrunner that shows my degree type as Graphic Design,” said Hibbert. “Four days later, all of a sudden Webrunner says I’m in General Studies; I have a screenshot of that as well. Now, I didn’t change that, so to me, it’s fraud.”
Hibbert was one of the three students told they could not receive the AAS of Graphic Design because they enrolled in 2014, after the 2013 teach out cutoff.
After delving into the matter, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities allowed LBCC to offer an AAS of Visual Communications/Graphic Design for all of the students enrolled.
“This thing hasn’t ended for us,” said Dave Becker, dean of applied business and technology. “It’ll never really end until we take care of every student that was in that program.”
Hibbert will be the last student of his class to complete the visual communication degree this fall, after more than a year waiting.
Doug Hibbert’s Degree Nightmare
Hibbert is a photographer who worked for Pepsi as a local merchandiser. A family man, he lived only four miles from Chemeketa Community College in Salem and was making a decent living wage when he decided to take a plunge and go back to school. Hibbert wanted to add graphic design to his repertoire, expecting the education to propel him deeper into the photography and design business.
Kam McCallister, another Salem photographer, Pepsi employee, and a friend of Hibbert’s decided to attend college at the same time for the same program: Graphic Design.
McCallister chose Chemeketa Community College because it was close to home, but Hibbert decided to make the drive to Albany every day for two years because LBCC’s program was supposedly superior.
“I left Pepsi at the same time that Doug did. We went to school the same amount of time for the same degree. I struggled, I was broke, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done, and to go through that and not get a degree… I can’t imagine what I’d do,” said McCallister.
McCallister warned Hibbert in March of 2014 that LBCC’s graphic design program had been shut down after learning this from a Chemeketa faculty member, according to McCallister.
“I talked to Lewis [Franklin] four or five times about it, and in February  I asked him again because I was unhappy about how the classes were going,” said Hibbert.
According to Hibbert, Lewis Franklin, the head instructor for the program reassured him there were no problems.
Franklin and other faculty had been making improvements to the program and were unaware of its total termination.
Despite this assurance, Hibbert spoke with Chemeketa faculty about transferring to their program, but discovered that most of his credits would not transfer. He would need to start over from scratch, and chose to stick with LBCC’s program.
Other students noticed something was amiss.
“Once we were about done with the first year, we were told that the third-year program was not available, and we would be getting an AAS degree which was designed to make us ‘job ready.’ Then, the mess began,” said Cheri Shones, one of the affected students.
Shones expected to earn an Advanced Certificate in Graphic Design on top of the two-year degree. Many changes had been made to the program, and the advanced certificate program was terminated in 2013 with the AAS.
It had been a bumpy ride, culminating in the disastrous news of program termination.
“It wasn’t picked up until spring term that there was a problem,” said Franklin. “They were just starting into their spring term and their last term here at school, and when they got that news it was like somebody dropped an atom bomb on us.”
After administration sought resolution and were notified they could give Hibbert a visual communications degree, Hibbert walked with his class in the June 2015 graduation ceremony.
He still had 8 credits to finish in the fall, but when fall quarter arrived, his financial aid fell through.
“Two days before my first day of class I’m told by financial aid that they won’t cover two of the three classes I was going to take because they weren’t required by my degree,” said Hibbert.
His degree may have still been listed as general studies, but these three classes were necessary for a visual communications degree.
Hibbert immediately went to Becker’s office, left notes and spoke with his secretary but received no communication. They were unable to resolve the issue in time for him to continue without paying out of pocket, and he dropped his classes.
This forced Hibbert to wait until fall 2016 to attend, because one of the classes is only offered during the fall quarter.
“I was not aware that he could not receive financial aid,” said Becker.
Becker said he had been vocal with students, offering help navigating the mess the school had caused.
Somehow, Hibbert’s call for help was lost in the chaos.
“Things do unfortunately sometimes fall through the cracks, but I know that we want to make it right for this student,” said Hamann. “You know, it does feel like red tape, because so much of this relates to external entities and financial aid gets weird, but it’s still our job to solve this.”
The financial aid mess has been sorted, and Hibbert is receiving grants through LBCC.
“We always had a pathway forward,” said Becker. “The talent grants were there to take care of whenever he wanted to complete his degree.”
Deans are allotted three full terms worth of grants to award the appropriate students, based on need or excellence.
“Eight credits to go; I would never want to see a student not complete because there was no financial aid, and nobody at the college would want to see that,” said Becker.
Aside from a loss in trust, Hibbert and the other students face a variety of consequences.
“It has put me in debt rather than help me build a better life for me and my children. They robbed me of success. It was a slap in the face. I don’t want my children growing up thinking going to college is just a ‘waste of time,’” said Shones.
Hibbert filed bankruptcy in January. He believes the year spent living on credit and grants and the past year without a job due to his lack of credentials caused most of the damage.
“None of the other students I’ve graduated with have been able to get even entry-level positions with the degree,” said Hibbert.
He is now struggling to pay his student loans, but doesn’t think he should have to. According to the Education Act of 1965, colleges are obligated to repay student financial aid when misrepresentation of program accreditation and federal funds are involved.
“Any student who had the graphic design major and received federal financial aid, they will have no obligation to pay that,” said Dale Stowell, executive director of institutional advancement in an article printed in edition 27, volume 46 of the Commuter.
Hibbert’s loans have been deferred until February, but they’re still gaining interest, and though he will receive a degree, it is not exactly the same as the one in which he enrolled.
“I’ll feel bad about this, regardless of even if it works out,” said Becker. “There was a lot of anxiety over that time frame and anxiety for the students, and I really regret that. But at the end of the day words don’t matter a whole lot; it’s what we do from here, you know, the action taken.”
Becker says his door is open to any student from the program who needs help finding job placement and opportunities.
Note: There will be a follow-up in next week’s edition on what really went wrong and where the Graphic Design program goes from here.
Story and photo by Emily Goodykoontz.