As it celebrates its 50th anniversary during the current school year, Umpqua Community College faces an immediate future clouded by economic uncertainty and declining enrollment.
Fall enrollment is roughly 2,400 students, down almost 300 from last year’s numbers, according to officials.
They attribute that decline to a number of factors, including:
Financial aid. The college saw a 24 percent student loan default last year and some students are unable to qualify for financial aid.
Enrollment in K-12 schools, which feed UCC, has also been declining, as younger families leave Douglas County in search of better job opportunities.
Douglas County’s population has remained flat over the past couple of years as retirees from California and elsewhere replace the younger families. Those retirees typically have no interest in returning to college.
We also wonder if the college has been able to deliver on its responsibility to help develop a skilled workforce. If Douglas County hopes to attract new companies, it will need to make sure it can deliver the employees.
Voters shot down a $40 million bond measure that would have provided a three-story, state-of-the-art health and sciences building to help train much-needed health-care professionals.
Prior to the bond’s failure in the May 2012 election, UCC’s then-marketing director, Bentley Gilbert, warned that the facility was needed, “to make sure we’re providing students with opportunities to train on the stuff they will be encountering when they have a job.”
That goal hasn’t changed, but the college will be hard-pressed to meet it unless it gets the capital to build the facilities.
College President Joe Olson recently hinted that the college may seek a smaller bond, somewhere around $20 million. He said the state is currently sitting on more than $16 million in matching construction money for “scaled-down” health and industrial arts centers.
“It would be a significant scale back, but would still leave us with very student-focused teaching areas and advanced technology which would meet the regional needs for allied health, auto, welding and industrial arts,” Olson recently explained.
We believe that’s at least worth serious consideration. Unless it gets the financial support it needs to meet the increasing demand for a skilled workforce, UCC will struggle to remain relevant.
And it would be a shame to pass on a chance to get $16 million in matching state construction funds.