Opinion: LB’s Decision To Cut Horticulture Program Affects Students And Local Businesses

LBCC President Greg Hamann tours the greenhouse on Monday, April 29.

Jeff Cope, owner of the local nursery Home Grown Gardens, expressed his concerns with LBCC’s decision to suspend the horticulture program.

“It was a decision without input from the community and input from the staff,” said Cope.

Cope, originally from Santa Barbara, was on the advisory committee for Santa Barbara City College’s horticulture program for 12 years, and then taught classes in the program for eight years.

Cope also has a degree in horticulture and a master’s in public administration.

“The way to do it, if they’re concerned about the performance of the program, is to make that an issue, and set goals for the level of enrollment. Let’s come up with a plan,” said Cope. Cope is not the only person who’s voiced their concerns.

Local businesses who have hired LBCC students sent their concerns about the suspension; President of Peoria Gardens Inc. Ben Verhoeven; owner of Straub Landscape Dave Straub; owner of Spring Hill Organic Farm Jamie Kitzrow; vineyard manager Merrilee Buchanan Benson; and produce manager at the First Alternative Co-op North Store Patrick Monroe.

“In this time of climate change and hyper ecosystem sensitivity, it is more important than ever that we have managers and business owners that are educated and trained in the proper management of our land. Without our land … we have nothing,” said Straub.

“The Willamette Valley is such a great growing region, and it has been such a great region for educating people on the different crops we can grow here,” said Merrilee Buchanan Benson, vineyard manager of Tyee Farms.

Home Grown Gardens and other local businesses are going to feel the repercussions of LBCC’s decision to suspend the horticulture program. LBCC is located within the Willamette Valley, where horticulture is a vital industry.

Cope said, “The suspension not only cuts the student off, but it cuts off employers like myself, and other nurseries, landscape companies, and farms in the community who want to hire people who have some knowledge. Now where are we going to get them from?”

Photo by Angela Scott

The college’s administration cited a few reasons to suspend the horticulture program: graduation rates were low in the program, student and teacher ratios were low, and the college is trying to save money.

The suspension is planned to save the college around $100,000 a year, which arguably is not a huge expense compared to other programs offered at LBCC.

Why not make cuts throughout other programs, or give faculty in programs with low statistics goals to work towards, or even look at registration rates of classes rather than graduation rates?

This year the Oregon Legislature proposed a budget of $543 million, that is 4.8 percent below the current budget. What legislators look at when creating a budget for community colleges is graduation rates. Looking at graduation rates makes sense for universities, but for community colleges, this approach seems questionable.

Many people who go to community college are taking just a few classes to become more qualified for a job. Many other students decide to transfer to a university before finishing their degree. Plus, other students take classes to satisfy their curiosity.

The Oregon Legislature’s budget has started to blur the line between university and community colleges. Community colleges are supposed to be utilized by the public in part to professionalize local industry.

“A lot of students I taught were not going on to get a degree, they just wanted the technical training to get out in the workforce,” Cope said. “That’s what community colleges need to remember.”

When a program is placed into suspension, a program can be revived without further state approvals for three years. During this time, a program might be updated or re-designed to better meet the industry and student needs. If the suspension becomes permanent, it could cost more to revive the program rather than work on the current condition of it.

“If the program is eliminated, it would be very hard to revive it with the same skill level and industry respect that Stefan Seiter now provides,” said Kitzrow of Spring Hill Organic Farm.

Seiter is head of the currently suspended horticulture program.

When asked if the college’s concerns about the horticulture program were ever expressed before the suspension, Seiter said that neither a Dean or Vice President had spoken to him nor has anybody expressed concerns to the Agricultural Science Department, which is the academic home of the suspended Horticulture and Crop Production programs.  

According to Seiter, the college has not asked him to re-design or update the now-suspended program.  

Let me rephrase, the head of the horticulture program was never told by anyone higher up about the concerns of the program. The decision to suspend the program was made without input from anyone in the program.

Setting criteria to improve a program can promote people to develop innovative ideas to reach the standard.

“They should not suspend the program, but they should identify how they can… bring it to the standards that the college has for it, and for all the programs,” said Cope.

This decision could damage our local economy and workforce within horticulture. It is easy to get a job while still in the horticulture program because a certificate is not required. However, in many programs that LBCC kept, you can only find jobs after you graduate with a certificate.

This technique boosts statistics for better graduation rates but takes away from the labor pool for local businesses within horticulture.

I hope that LBCC seriously reconsiders its decision to suspend the horticulture program for the benefit of the students, faculty, and ultimately the community. The program started at LBCC 38 years ago, it would be a shame to see 38 years of work ended so abruptly.

Column by Audric Macone

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