Sell PCC, Don’t Subsidize Mismanagement

Portland Community College recently mailed a slick, multicolor, expensive brochure to (probably) hundreds of thousands of registered voters across five counties. Why? To “educate” us so we vote this November to tax ourselves more to pay for PCC’s 20-year, $374 million bond. Instead of more subsidies for PCC, the various campuses should be converted into private, nonprofit organizations or sold to private, for-profit entities. This is the smart thing to do: Apparently the people at the helm have little-to-no ability to run the wildly popular PCC. Why make that claim? According to the “educational” brochure, student demand for PCC services is high, real high — but, oddly, there’s not enough money to run the place.
The “educational” brochure reports, “In the fall of 2007, almost 10,000 students were put on waiting lists for classes and more than 5,000 of that group didn’t get into the classes they needed.” In an established business, filled-to-capacity + demand-beyond-capacity = a good sum of money left in the till to pay for the things needed to accommodate that demand. But, at PCC this apparently means nothing of the sort.

What the high, unfulfilled demand likely means: PCC services are underpriced. It’s also possible that PCC’s operating expenses are too high. Or both. Hence the “educational” brochure that makes a case for why property owners should cough up more tax dollars. For 20 years. For $374 million.

(Renters, don’t be fooled. If the bond measure passes, you, too, will pay for the increase in property taxes. Landlords are certain this to pass along this tax increase to you in the form of higher rent.)

The “educational” brochure notes, “PCC has more students applying for programs than can fit into current facilities.” One must wonder, have the various PCC branches contacted area hotels or high schools about renting space? Certainly there are meeting rooms in these places that are empty during the day and evening. Why not use existing resources before launching expensive construction efforts, which down the road will also require tax dollars for maintenance?

The “educational” brochure asserts, “Business and industry are asking for workforce training programs that PCC cannot offer without additional space.” This smacks of corporate welfare.

Next we are told, “Employers are importing welders from the Gulf Coast because there are so few trained locally.” So? Private vocational training programs exist in the state, for example, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. And, apprenticeships work well for training many vocational skills; my father became a darn great electrician through an apprenticeship, to the point of owning his own electrical contracting business. In sum, PCC need not provide what the private sector can do, or already is doing.

Converting the PCC campuses into autonomous, nonprofit entities and/or selling them to for-profit concerns would be a good way to bring about competition in terms of regulating, even reducing, expenses at the schools to the benefit of students. Further, taking such bold action would foster smarter use of existing resources, also to the benefit of students. Oh, and property tax payers — that’s all of us — would benefit as well.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 14 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    But remember, we need an institution to take care of the 90% who don’t graduate from Portland State.

  • eagle eye

    Ah, sell off the community colleges. Next to go will be the public schools, I guess. Then maybe the state highways and prisons. I don’t think it will happen unless the State goes bankrupt in the looming Depression, perhaps in bankruptcy court, whatever that is like for a State.

    No, it’s more derangement from the right wing as the economy collapses and the country gets ready to throw out the Republicans and bring in the most leftwing government since the last Depression, perhaps elect the most leftwing Democratic candidate ever in what looks to be a landslide.

    It’s not that the idea of selling off the schools is inherently a bad idea. It’s the delusional character of the proposal, as if there was any support for the idea at all outside of the rightwing fever swamps.

  • Tim Lyman

    As someone who has taught at PCC I can tell you that, at least in the computer education department, there is not a more mismanaged – or, more correctly, unmanaged – entity.

    There was absolutely no guidance or oversight for instructors, no consistency in cirriculum, no procedures in place whatever.

    After eight years in her position the director of the program finally created what she referred to as an instructor manual. It was like something a third grader would write and was completely devoid of any useful information.

    If you taught a class one quarter there was no guarantee you would teach it again next quarter, disincentivizing instructors from putting effort into course preparation.

    Regular PCC employees teaching classes to earn extra cash also accrued the full suite of benefits while most of the instructors were paid for nothing but class time and received no benefits. We even had to pay for our own parking.

    One class session was pushed back a half hour without any notification to either the instructor or the students so that a seminar for union employees could be held in the classroom.

    A Windows XP class was scheduled and held in a classroom whose computers were all runing Windows Vista. Staff said that all students had been notified and were aware of the change. This was news to the students who ALL showed up expecting to learn Windows XP.

    Textbook selection, for the classes where students were actually provided with books, was a joke. I was once given a book designed for MS Office 03 users to familiarize themselves with the new features in MS Office 07, told to use it as the text for teaching a beginning MS Office class for seniors who had barely ever touched a computer.

    Classes were taught with as little as three students because the massive subsidies would cover expenses.

    Tech support staff quality varied widely. The sole technician assigned to one campus had no technical skills whatsoever (she couldn’t even find a printer on a network) and was hired because her uncle was also a tech. Trouble sheets I filed at this campus the beginning of one quarter were still in the inbox at the beginning of next quarter.

    The ‘manager’ of the Microsoft program only worked half days, three days a week and would only talk to his instructors during his office hours. If you had a problem and it wasn’t before 2PM Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you were SOL – students be damned.

    Many of my students were either public employees or referrals from the state employment office. Without these people there probably would not have been many classes. It was a shell game among government entities.

    I have never worked anywhere that was even remotely close to PCC’s computer education program in utter and complete failure.

    I do have to point out that there were some great instructors and some very competent tecnicians and staff, but they were in the minority and pulled down by the incompetence of management.

    PCC is an entity with a noble purpose and beginning that the education interests in Oregon have turned into a bloated waste staffed with incompetents. If PCC had stuck with its original mission I would be 100% in support of it, but it didn’t and I am not.

    If PCC is going to survive it needs to start by eliminating wasteful programs, especially those the private sector does a better job of, like computer education, and get back to it’s original mission of being a trade school (welding, diesel repair, etc) and a place where students can get their first two years of college cheap.

    When I went to PCC for my transfer credits twenty five years ago tuition was about $10 a credit hour. Now it’s almost as much as PSU. If there was ever evidence that it’s lost its way, this is it.

    • dean

      Tim…tuition went up to make up for the tax support going down. This was a function of our property tax limitation that shifted responsibility for K-12 to the state without providing any funding. Community colleges were caught between a rock and hard place and had no choice but to raise tuitions or close programs or both.

      Eagle Eye…you nailed it. However, I’m not sure Obama is all that “left wing.” His policy positions are quite mainstream, so unless our nation has one wing way bigger than the other, I would say he is a bit left of center. All signs are that he is a cautious pragmatist who intends to govern in ways more beneficial to the bottom 3/4 of Americans than the top 1/4, but not excessively so.

      • Tim Lyman

        PCC gets more money now than it ever has.

        Tuition went up because PCC strayed from its core mission and became a bloated, inefficient, ineffective bureaucracy, going on a building spree as it did so.

        • eagle eye

          I don’t know much about PCC but Lane Community College (LCC) figures show that public support has stagnated while tuition income has soared.

          Go to

          and go to the 2007-2008 adopted budget (through a couple of links) to p. 21/105 of the pdf document. There’s a good graph there.

          Is PCC that much different from LCC?

          By the way, those trade school programs that you think are PCC’s legitimate mission are generally not cheap to run, it’s far from clear that they are cheaper than computer programs.

          And do you really thing that computer education is not as legitimate as those other programs? I don’t see why not, and furthermore, I don’t see why a community college can’t run good computer programs. If there are complaints about the computer programs at LCC, I haven’t heard them in the press or elsewhere. (I have to admit I don’t follow such stuff that closely).

          In any case, do you really believe that selling off PCC is the answer to its problems?

          It seems to me that critics of budget or management practices who put forth such suggestions are part of the problem. Because nobody is going to listen to them. It leaves the field entirely to the bad managers, if such they really are.

  • Anonymous

    “If PCC is going to survive it needs to start by eliminating wasteful programs”

    Now that is funny.

    Wasteful programs serve as a employment chairs for public employee democrat contributors and voters.

    Why would any public agency or institutions in Oregon get rid of wasteful programs and weaken the support base of Democrats?

    Your confusion that Obama is “a bit left of center” demonstrates your total lack of perception.
    But typical lib, you can’t recognize what far left is.
    Why do you thinbk Obama is the most left wing lib in the Senate?
    Why has Obam hung with left wing radicals?

    You’re just full of crap and contributing to the snow job that Obama is not the radical he is.
    He’s closer to being a marxist radical than he is a bit left of center.

    • dean

      Well…since he is on the verge of winning a majority of the vote in the next election, that suggests he is not “far left,” unless “far left” is acceptable to a majority.

      The so-called ranking of him as “most liberal” is B.S. The Republicans did the same with John Kerry in 04. Whomever the Democrats run is coincidentally going to be ranked as “farthest left” in that oparticular moment.

      If you think Obama is farther left than Bernie Sanders, a self-described socailist senator from Vermont, you are very gullible.

      And as far as “hanging out…” I “hang out” with a neighbor who is a bit to the right of Attila the Hun.” We don’t agree on any national politics, but like each other and “hang out” a lot more than Obama did with Ayers. We serve on local committees together. I have coffee at his house. We communicate nearly every day. By your definition that would make me far right wing.

  • Anonymous

    Are you really this stupid?
    If Obama wins that doesn’t alter what he is. It only means he has successfully obscured, with media help, his real radical self.
    You being liberal yourself makes you the worst judge of anything left. or right.
    But your nonsense about the election determining Obama’s core is just laughable.
    You dream up ludicrous suggestions such as his “winning a majority of the vote in the next election, that suggests he is not “far left,”

    It suggests no such thing. His past and circle of long time friends determines his far left status.

    “unless “far left” is acceptable to a majority.”

    Dumb dean, really dumb.

    No far left isn’t acceptable to a majority.
    Jusrt as late term abortion isn’t.
    Just as the bulk of ACLU actions aren’t.

    But Obama is that far left and you obviously reside nearby.

  • Ted

    Guess what the only profitable programs at MHCC are? You guessed it- Non-MHCC classes. The Eastern Oregon business program is one of the few programs that is actually making money while using MHCC facilities. How do they accomplish this? They cut costs by using the campus on the weekends- when few or no other classes are running. I’m sure there are other reasons, but if PCC is empty on Saturdays and Sundays as well, it _IS_ a problem.

  • Jerry

    People, people. Wake up. This is not rocket science. Educators can not manage. That is why PCC and other institutions like it are in trouble. They no nothing about budgeting or implementing. They are educators. It will never change. Regardless of the origin of the money , it will always be wasted because the people running the place are out of their league. They simply can not do their jobs.

    • eagle eye

      Maybe the stupid educators should do an internship at GM or Lehman Bros. to learn how to do things right. Or maybe at Treasury, that old Goldman Sachs guy Hank Paulson will set them straight.

  • eagle eye

    Reading this piece again, it’s striking how detached from reality it is. Does the author mean to end public subsidies for PCC? The subsidies from the state and also local property taxes that make up 60% or so of the PCC budget? Amazingly, this is left unclear, but I infer that maybe this is what he has in mind:

    “Oh, and property tax payers – that’s all of us – would benefit as well.”

    So what is going to make up the difference? Student tuition, no doubt, just double it and then some. A great plan, will be wildly popular. Why haven’t the Republicans thought of something like this?

  • Anon.

    Taking the Community out of college:
    This November PCC is asking the taxpayers to support a bond measure of nearly 400 million dollars. I am adamantly opposed to this bond for the following reasons:
    1. The Bond will raise the housing expenses on thousands of families at the same time we are experiencing the highest rates of home foreclosures in US history. (in raw numbers of homes foreclosed or in process)
    2. PCC’s campaign has been dishonest in the extreme. In adds they claim that the bond will “Only cost an additional $8.00 per month per $200,000 in assessed value. This misleads because this will be in addition to the funds that PCC allready gets from our property taxes to pay off the 174 million dollar bond from just 8 years ago. At the time that bond was passed PCC made the same claims as this round, yet from 2002 till just last year enrollment declined. In fact the bond planning process started when enrollment was flat.
    PCC also claims that the Money will meet demands for increased job training, but one of the purposed uses of the bond proceeds is a new performing arts center at the Rock Creek Campus. (just what Portland needs, more performance artist to work as baristas!) The point being that this will not increase enrollment for high demand job training.
    3. PCC wastes money. Examples include over a quarter million dollars for security cameras despite absolute proof and the acknowledgment by the safety office that the cameras do not deter crime. The security office as also moved from the center of campus to the extreme southern fringe and hardened with obscured bullet prof glass and bullet prof walls in a bizarre reversal of community policing. There are too many examples like this in every area of the colleges operations to even list.
    4. PCC will mismanage the construction and planning. How do we know this? by looking at the last bond. When air condition was added to a building the roof was so damaged it required a 1.2 million dollar replacement. Within a year or two of construction major systems in new buildings had faild and in most cases the contractors and designers were never held accountable. In one case a custom built in place counter actually caused injury to the people who worked there and had to be re designed and rebuilt. This is another area where the list just goes on and on. Lighting controls, Hvac controls, work areas.
    Perhaps the worst thing is the same people who bungled the job last time will be in charge. Come folks, you are a college, you are suppose to be smart people.

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