In July, citizens gathered at the Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC) satellite campus in Brookings to voice their concerns about the future of the campus. The Pilot attended that public meeting.
The following is a conversation with SWOCC communications administrator Anne Farrell-Matthews about what has occurred since that meeting to address the public’s concerns.
The Pilot: During the SWOCC board meeting at the Curry campus in July, concerns were raised about declining enrollment, the college's operating costs, and how tax money supporting the college is spent. The board chair said the issues would be addressed during an upcoming workshop. Has that workshop been held? What was the outcome?
Anne Farrell-Matthews: The college’s board of education discussed this at its September meeting. Board members decided that based upon ongoing meetings between Curry Executive Dean Doug Bunn and concerned citizens, that a work session wasn’t needed. Instead, Curry President Patty Scott and staff members met with the Curry County commissioners and their staff on Oct. 3.
The Pilot: During the July meeting, Curry County Commissioner Sue Gold suggested that the board needed to review a plan to lower the college’s current tax rate, offer additional courses to seniors, and develop medical and business internships to attract more students. What action by SWOCC and the board has been taken on Gold's request?
Farrell-Matthews: SWOCC launches its annual budget process each spring. During that time, the budget committee and board of education discuss anticipated revenues and expenses, new program start-ups and other issues. At that time, the board of education makes tax rate decisions.
As to lifelong learning opportunities for seniors, SWOCC’s instructional leaders are working on additional classes for seniors. Class topics are driven by residents’ requests, and opportunities to hire part-time instructors who want to teach community classes. The new popular lecture series “SWOCC and Beyond” started as a result of the July board meeting and continued discussions with individuals.
SWOCC has partnered with businesses and organizations in Brookings and Gold Beach to offer internships for more than 20 years. The college is always looking to add more opportunities for students to gain work experience. Executive Dean Doug Bunn has met over the past few months with employers who might be interested.
The Pilot: During the July meeting, Curry County Commissioner Chris Paasch urged the board to develop additional vocational courses at the Curry campus. What action has SWOCC and the board taken on that request?
Farrell-Matthews: Each year, the college reviews labor market information for the district to determine where new programming would be beneficial. Over the past few years, in listening to community partners’ perceived labor needs and analyzing labor market trends, the college has identified a need for vocational courses in welding, criminal justice, paramedicine and healthcare fields.
Creation of new programs often requires an investment in equipment and new staff. For welding, the college is exploring a partnership with Brookings-Harbor High School. We hope through this partnership to generate a cost-effective way to offer welding courses through shared facilities after regular school hours, and provide entry-level classes to high school students.
The college plans to offer criminal justice, paramedicine, nursing and medical assisting courses through a combination of onsite and distance education at the Curry campus. Face-to-face courses offered at the Curry campus are dependent on a combination of factors: the number of students who need the courses to complete a degree, whether a course is offered via distance across the district, and the availability of qualified instructors in specific fields.
SWOCC aims to be student-centered. Faculty and staff at both campuses collaborate to work with all students. This helps ensure students can access all classes required in their career path based on their needs and schedules, and complete their studies in a timely manner through courses offered throughout the district.
In some cases, the cost of starting a new program versus the actual labor need is not proportionate. There may not be enough job openings forecast in the next five to 10 years to support the expense of a new program start-up. In other instances, such as for construction laborers, a college degree program is not necessary for entry into the field.
The college continually reviews Oregon Employment Department job projections for this region. At the same time, the Office of Instruction continues to review the many programs that have been suggested in conversations with Curry residents to determine labor market viability.
Curry Campus Executive Dean Doug Bunn continues to meet with potential industry partners. The most enthusiastic response we have received has been from the healthcare industry, and labor market data supports ongoing investment in those programs. In response, the college has increased enrollment in its nursing program in Curry, and increased classes for entry-level certified nursing assistants.
The Pilot: There were also concerns raised by audience members during the July meeting that Brookings and Gold Beach needed to be better represented on the SWOCC board. What action has SWOCC and the board taken on that request?
Farrell-Matthews: The college board of education seats are elected positions. They are open to potential candidates from Brookings and Gold Beach every two years. The next election for board seats is in May 2021.
The Pilot: What is the current student population at the SWOCC Curry campus? Is that up or down compared to the last few years, and why?
Farrell-Matthews: SWOCC currently has 170 Curry County students taking credit classes for the 2019-20 school year. This includes some students who are attending in Coos Bay and students who take classes online. Curry campus full-time equivalent enrollment has increased 5% over last year.
The Pilot: How many courses are currently offered - in what areas, and why those areas - at the Curry campus?
Farrell-Matthews: The Curry campus offers 16 face-to-face credit classes this fall, ranging from art, anthropology, lab sciences, math/algebra, and computer skills to nursing, sociology, and writing composition.
Curry staff determine which classes to offer based on availability of instructors, student demand and community need. The college also offers GED and other Adult Basic Education courses. In addition, the college offers online courses to Curry students, and these do tend to fill quickly because of the flexibility they offer.
The majority of students enrolled at both of the college’s campuses attend part-time. Many are working and find that they are better able to manage online courses with busy schedules and families.
The Pilot: How many full- and part-time instructors and administrators are employed at the Curry campus, and what is the Curry campus’s annual budget?
Farrell-Matthews: The Curry campus has an executive dean, assistant director, two first-stop representatives (one is three-quarter-time), an academic advisor, a quarter-time IT technician, and a facilities technician. The campus employs three full-time faculty members and 25 part-time instructors.
The Pilot: What is the plan to boost enrollment and make the Curry campus fit more of the needs of the local area?
Farrell-Matthews: The Curry campus will continue to serve the needs of the local area through a sustained focus on programs related to healthcare, education, public safety, digital design technology, and degree transfer programs. Using broadcast technology, the college anticipates being able to expand program access to Curry residents. It also will result in the college canceling fewer courses on the Curry campus due to low enrollment.
Staff continues to collaborate with the high schools in Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford to bring students to the Curry campus. The college also works to outreach to high school students about dual-enrollment opportunities, in which they can take college classes. Students can enroll in these classes at no charge to local families and get a jump on college and save money.
The college continues to market to residents through traditional print media, broadcast media, its website and social media to communicate with students in the target demographic areas.
Staff is also developing more “SWOCC & Beyond” programs to address the interests of community members and increase the visibility of the college.
The SWOCC Curry campus is at 96082 Lone Ranch Pkwy. in Brookings. For more information, call 541-813-1667.