As president of LBCC, I’m often asked to share our community college’s vision within the cultural and economic landscape of the Mid-Willamette Valley. I have a three-word answer: “Education for All.”

Last month, I was pleased to be invited to speak at a Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon, and to be joined by a large group of Philomath business leaders who came out to learn more about Linn-Benton Community College. I was also happy to be joined by Dr. John Sarna, LBCC’s elected Board of Education member representing Philomath and rural Benton County. At the event, I had the chance to share information about our college’s programs, challenges and opportunities, and to unpack why “Education for All” really means ALL. I’d like to summarize some of that information for you in this news column.

The unique role of LBCC

What makes LBCC unique is that we really do aim to offer resources for everyone — and are constantly committed to doing better when it comes to serving our rural and small-town communities. In fact, this is at the heart of our mission. 

You may know us as a quality resource for accessible higher education. But what you may not know is the breadth we strive for in offering programs to all residents of Benton and Linn counties – starting with our smallest residents served by the LBCC Family Connects / Pollywog Program, and support of the Parenting Success child care consortium in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties. For middle school students, we offer summer camps and academic clubs as well as support for the Mid-Valley STEM-CTE Hub; and for high school students (especially many in Philomath), we offer dual-enrollment options that allow students to pursue college degrees alongside their high school diplomas. For senior citizens and older adults, we offer a wide range of community education courses including recreation, arts and more. 

Of course, for those enrolled in college, LBCC offers the absolute best, affordable path to a higher education degree in the area. This includes more than 85 options that lead to great careers. LBCC students can pursue career-technical programs that lead to excellent jobs in two years or in some cases, even a matter of weeks. Our machining and welding programs get people good jobs that are needed in local industry; Mechatronics and Non-Destructive Testing are cutting-edge, high-tech programs that also lead to high wages in the Mid-Valley’s manufacturing sector. For students who are looking to earn a bachelor’s degree, our transfer options save families literally thousands of dollars in tuition – in fact, our Degree Partnership Program with OSU has become a nationally recognized model for the seamless transfer of credits and financial aid.

Does LBCC achieve this alone? No. We are truly a “community” college — and that means we share the responsibility of creating real futures for our students along with many community partners, businesses, institutions, and leaders who walk alongside us and help us create programs. In particular, our partnership with leaders in Philomath, across the educational and community spectrum, allow us to give people a fair shot at success in a way we otherwise could not. We are very proud of that.

Staying OPEN – even during the pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, LBCC has remained open, relevant and responsive. I have a couple of great examples to share. Our Small Business Development Center served more than 1,200 individuals and 600 businesses in 2020, a tough year for small business owners. We were able to help folks apply for wildfire disaster relief, connect with COVID assistance funding, and learn how to navigate the changing business climate. Also, our Benton County facility remained open for in-person services to students and community members, many of whom enjoy Ceramics and Better Bones and Balance Courses. A personal Benton County highlight for me was throwing out the first pitch at the LBCC Night at the Knights last summer, and I’m looking forward to welcoming more baseball fans on June 21 at Goss Stadium. Please join us for baseball, fun and chances at scholarships for those in attendance!

As we look forward to fall term, our goal is to offer the bulk of our instruction in-person — especially as the research confirms students do better when they can make personal connections. That said, the pandemic has opened doors for building our online options for students, and we will continue to offer that flexibility where we can.

Meeting enrollment challenges

During my Chamber talk, I was also able to speak in depth about a challenge impacting LBCC and many other community colleges nationwide: our enrollment has declined dramatically during the pandemic. Almost 25% of Oregon community college students have left school, effectively stepping off the path to the middle class. This is a concern for all of the communities we serve, because we need to get those folks back to school, to work, and to improve their lives for their families and communities. LBCC has taken a lot of creative steps to help re-engage and re-enroll our missing group, but I do ask that you share with friends, neighbors and relatives: we are open, and ready to help students get back on their feet and into the classroom. 

Our strategy is planning for the future in a way that responds directly to community needs. We’re partnering with Oregon State University to launch a new program in Veterinary Technology, which will provide high-wage jobs and will help fill a needed industry gap. Along those lines, a major opportunity will be on the May 2022 ballot, asking voters to approve a bond measure for our new 55-acre agriculture education center in Tangent (a cost of 7 cents per thousand). If the voters approve this measure, LBCC would also reopen a child care center in Albany, and, importantly, remodel our Benton Center’s career services and community meeting space area. 

Proud to be Philomath’s community college

Today, I happily greeted a bus full of Philomath High School students as they arrived on campus for our “Roadrunner for a Day” event. This event is an awesome opportunity for all high school seniors in the area to experience what it’s like to be a college student. The morning began with high schoolers building an ideal class schedule, and then students spending the rest of the day attending a set of sample classes taught by our faculty members, as well as touring our facilities. It is a joy to help facilitate a future vision of personal investment for these students, and to support them along the way.

All around both Linn and Benton Counties, LBCC is improving its outreach and helping residents get on the path to good jobs so they can stay in our communities and build a higher quality of life for their families. Again, if you know someone who needs to take advantage of this opportunity, please connect them to us at linnbenton.edu/apply. We’re proud to provide “Education for All”, and to be Philomath’s community college.