Portland community college horticulture therapy

Portland community college horticulture therapy

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Portland community college horticulture therapy program helps students heal

By Jessica Ravitz and Amy S. Rosenberg

PORTLAND, Ore. — As patients began flooding into the new horticulture therapy program at the Portland Community College Southeast Campus, students were ready to help.

After all, for them, horticulture therapy is a matter of life and death.

“So many of my patients are dying from cancer,” said Jody Kieffer, founder of the program, which began offering classes in August. “This is just a small thing we can do.”

The class is part of a push by the college to expand its offerings and to develop the workforce that will keep pace with Portland’s growing need for jobs in health care and aging-related services.

“There is an unprecedented need for the skilled, trained and educated workforce that can meet the needs of our current and growing population,” said Richard L. Nelson, president of Portland Community College.

“These are the things that we know are a real challenge to our economy and our quality of life,” Mr. Nelson said. “This is why we are investing so much in our students’ education.”

With about 70 percent of the jobless population of Oregon under the age of 35, the college, the state’s only community college system, has worked to bolster career training for the next generation of workers. Students can earn certificates, associate’s degrees and certificates of completion to get entry-level jobs in health care and aging-related services.

The college expects to expand its career offerings even more as it seeks a $40 million infusion to renovate its facilities in Southwest Portland.

For now, the college is relying on its own resources to help fill the gap in job training and development. One new offering is the horticulture therapy class at the college’s southeast campus, where students can earn a certificate while they learn to grow and promote healthful plants for patients and caregivers.

In a program that combines traditional education with work, students help train and care for animals rescued from the high-kill shelter of Oregon Humane Society.

While Oregon’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, that still means nearly 1 in 14 people are out of work, and the college says there are more people looking for jobs than there are job openings.

At the Portland campus alone, there are 5,400 students taking remedial and academic remedial education classes.

While the college’s enrollment has dropped 2.7 percent over the last two years, the numbers have been growing every year, as have the number of students participating in the college’s financial aid and student retention programs.

College officials project a $5.5 million budget gap for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1. They plan to cut costs in an effort to keep the college solvent.

A task force will recommend ways to save, said Portland Community College President Bill Wallace. The task force is looking at things like consolidating staff positions, merging departments and even going into debt.

The college wants to keep tuition low for its students, Wallace said, but they won’t be able to continue to do that if they don’t keep making cuts.

“We need to make sure we do something that will allow us to maintain financial stability in the future,” he said.

The college is planning to cut its $6 million budget by 10 percent, or $600,000, to help make up for the cuts in funding.

They’ve already made one cut, which affected one area where students can get a second job credit. The college now accepts only one job credit per semester, up from two.

Wallace said that’s not enough to keep up with the rising number of students who need job credits. He said they would have to cut somewhere else to help them.

The college is taking a closer look at the budget for each department. Some departments are not taking in money as well as they have in the past, Wallace said.

He said the biggest challenge for the community college is finding ways to keep students in the programs that help them get jobs.

This year, there was one less student who needed two job credits.

“We’ve met some financial targets for the third year in a row,” Wallace said. “We’re getting more than the 10 percent decrease that we’re seeing at a couple of other campuses.”

Portland Community College has been increasing the number of hours its business, education and health career programs are offering to help students transition into the workforce.

And now that Portland Community College is in a financial bind, many students enrolled in a technical training program are worried they’ll be cut out of the program and not be able to continue their training.

College officials didn’t respond to questions about the impact of the cuts on individual programs.

Instead, they emailed a statement that said the changes that are happening will be reviewed next month.

In the meantime, Portland Community College is continuing to offer classes, including some open enrollment courses and a new course for students looking to transfer to a four-year college.

All schools and their students could be impacted by budget cuts. But if enough people act together, they can ensure that the school remains open and continue to offer classes.

Students in the community college can be informed of any budget changes by calling the financial assistance office at 503-288-4824, ext. 3030.

-- Molly Harbarger

[email protected] | @MollyHarbarger

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