Erica Mills and Kat Stone are in a race for the Umpqua Community College’s board of education zone 4, east central county, for the May 18 special election.
Steve Loosley, the board chair, is running unopposed for the zone 7 at-large position. The real estate developer has been on the board since being elected in 2017. He has a master’s degree in theology from Western Seminary, a Master of Business Administration from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University.
Guy Kennerly, board vice-chair, is running unopposed in the south central county’s zone 5. He has served on the board since 2017, is a small business owner and rancher.
Mills has held the zone 4 position since being elected in July 2019.
“I care deeply about this community, and I want to see it thrive,” Mills said. “I believe education is one of our most powerful tools of self-empowerment, and I want to ensure that our local residents have access to a local option for quality affordable education.”
She added that educating the community would build a stronger workforce, a strong economy and shared sense of purpose.
Mills holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from Oregon State University.
Stone has been elected to the Douglas County Transportation District Board twice and was appointed to the Roberts Creek Water District budget committee in 2017.
“I am a lifelong resident of Douglas County who went from mill worker to RN because of Umpqua Community College,” Stone said. “That provided opportunities that I had never before imagined I would have. So I want to give back some of what they gave me. I believe my experiences, including having been in other elected offices, makes me uniquely qualified to be on the UCC Board.”
She said one of the biggest issues the college is facing is declining enrollment, and subsequent loss of funding.
“Enrollment is the basis of the funding for the college, but it seems that the current board may have paid more attention to the financial value of the student to UCC instead of the value of UCC to the students and the general community,” Stone said.
Mills acknowledged that the college is faced with economic challenges and more competition.
“Today, post-secondary education is relatively easy to access, from a variety of schools across the globe — right from the comfort of your own living room,” she said. “UCC is challenged now with remaining relevant amidst steeper and stronger competition.”
She said the way to stay relevant is to work with local community members and build a workforce pipeline.
“Our local employers should be looking to UCC to deliver work-ready graduates who can provide meaningful contributions to our local economy,” Mills said. “UCC has the potential to build the engine to drive our local economy.”
In recent years, the community college has made several cuts to programs and staff, with finances and low enrollment frequently cited as the reasons for those adjustments.
Stone said she wants to make sure all options are exhausted before cuts are made to educational programs.
“We cannot afford to have short term savings create a long term problem for our college,” she said. “Cutting quality programs that need to be the mainstay of any community college is no model to follow to sustain UCC. It seems that the current board has focused on that basic business model that the only value of what we do is the money involved, but that is simply not true. Our real value is not the money we generate, it is the quality programs we offer and how they benefit our students.”
Stone and Mills both agreed that the college should focus on creating programs that will help the people and businesses in the community.
“Our best guard against further program and staffing cuts is to really listen to what our local community needs, and then deliver on it,” Mills said. “This will grow our most valuable in-demand programs, and allow us to streamline those that are less in demand.”
She also said the college should be creative about how to deliver the education and training in a cost-efficient way.
Stone also wanted to review extra curricular type programs.
“They should not replace educational and training programs that actually provide that upward mobility opportunity for our youth and others,” Stone said. “We also need to make sure that programs we promote do not adversely impact other aspects of life in the district. UCC needs to be a good neighbor and community partner. If we aren’t, we also put the financial well-being of UCC at risk.”
Mills said that for her it’s most important to ensure that the college helps support students to ensure they are successful. “The average student is in their late 20s, with a job and a family,” she said. “How can we better understand our students, their needs, and the barriers that prevent them from graduating?”
When asked how Umpqua Community College can improve on diversity, equity and inclusion, Mills said she prefers to look at what barriers people may experience.
“Removing barriers to education provides students access to our most valuable self-empowerment tools,” she said.
Ballots for the election should be arriving any day and are due by 8 p.m. May 18. They can be mailed or dropped off in any of the ballot boxes throughout the county.