Students Worry About Loss of LBCC Computer Science Program
ALBANY – Winter term is coming to a close, and LBCC’s campus begins to quiet down in preparation for spring break as students shuffle in to take their finals.
But as students and staff wrapped up the term, administrators at LBCC announced that the Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, and Criminal Justice programs are being discontinued. The college is planning a teach-out, ending faculty contracts, and closing the programs at the end of the spring term 2023-24, or June 2024.
“Students should be able to focus on their finals, not about their program of study being discontinued,” said Sisi Virasak, one of six full-time computer science faculty at LBCC.
There is concern from both students and faculty that many of the students currently enrolled in the Computer Science and Computer Information Systems programs still won’t be able to finish by the end of the spring in 2024.
“I would not have my current job working for KForce at Hewlett-Packard (nor would many of my coworkers) if it were not for the time, dedication, and support of these programs and their professors,” said Keri Grigas, a student in LBCC’s Computer Science program.
Virasak noted, “We have a lot of non-traditional students that are not necessarily on a two-year plan for degree completion because they’re parents or have to work or other reasons. I have a student that said it could take up to eight years for them to complete this Computer Science program. Now where are they supposed to go?”
Computer Science student Robert Schatz said, “I work full-time 40 hours a week and my employer is helping by reimbursing my tuition. I am unable to take more than one or two classes a term and will not be able to finish my degree by next June. I have been working hard juggling school and work the last two years and it saddens me to know I will not be able to finish this program due to budget cuts.”
When asked why Computer Science was being cut, college President Lisa Avery said students that would otherwise take Computer Science at LBCC have many other options such as attending Computer Science programs at Lane and Chemeketa community colleges or taking an online course through Google or Coursera.
Sources note, however, that enrollment – more than 100 students – in the CS and CIS programs is high, especially since the launch of the cyber security program. They are questioning the administration’s data and the metrics to support the decision to cut a program that is a pipeline to a growing industry with 20 million jobs.
“Most of our students cannot afford to travel to Lane or Chemeketa if they live in or around Albany,” Virasak said.
Vice President Ann Buchele explained that Computer Science is a field that you don’t necessarily need to be in a classroom to study. She noted that students have online options, a mode of learning that has remained popular since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students won’t be able to get the same learning experience with online programs such as Google and Coursera, Virasak said. “They miss out on the important human connection element that helps solidify what they are learning.”
“I had a student that went to Chemeketa and failed, then came to LBCC and failed but was able to persevere and continue on because she had people that believed in her and encouraged her at LBCC, and that’s the support we are able to give our students here,” Virasak said.
That student now works as a data analyst at the Oregon Department of Education, and is a Computer Science major at Oregon State University.
Avery said the State of Oregon has slowly and steadily been disinvesting in community colleges for more than a decade; combined with low enrollment rates since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic there is just not enough money coming in to sustain LBCC as it currently is.
“Enrollment is down 25%. We need to be a smaller college and cutting programs is how we can do that,” said Buchele, discussing the health of the college. She believes that the program cuts that were made will allow for the fewest number of students and areas of the college to feel an impact.
“I feel like I’m at peace with the students, and then my worst fear came true. My dean told me my program was cut,” Virasak said.
An uneasy feeling is shared among many of the faculty at LBCC who see their work and their colleagues being affected by these budget cuts.
Marci Moling, chemistry faculty at LBCC, sent a letter expressing concern for her fellow faculty to President Avery and Vice President Buchele. The letter included 15 points of concern centered around defunding library faculty and was signed by 38 faculty members from a number of departments.
In addition to Computer Science and Criminal Justice, administrators have announced plans to cut three full-time faculty in the college’s library, as well as scale back the college’s Adult Basic Skills program, which serves GED students and many non-English-speaking students.
“I’m heartbroken. I know I will be OK, but for the students that are losing this opportunity, I’m sad. It’s like they’re losing their chance (at getting an education),” said Virasak. “LBCC is about community and is supposed to be student-centered but this decision hurts the students the most.”