Community college’s budget cuts mean fewer opportunities for adult learners

Starting this fall, Linn-Benton Community College will offer 75% fewer GED and English language classes to adult learners.

A Linn-Benton Community College program that teaches adult English language proficiency and GED preparation is a model for other colleges around Oregon, according to former department coordinator Joyce Thompson Graham.

“Every other college in the state has asked us to come and talk to them,” Thompson Graham said. “People want to know how we manage to do what we’re doing.”

The school’s Adult Basic Skills program recently saw 21% of its students go on to enroll in college, which Thompson Graham said is well above the national rate of 3% across similar programs.

But despite its success, LBCC plans to cut the program significantly as part of its response to a $2.5 million budget deficit.

That, local service providers say, could have a dramatic impact on the communities the program served.

People who aren’t proficient in English and can’t access English learning programs face more barriers to higher education and better-paying jobs, said Kara Hanson, director of Crossroads Conversation School, which provides conversational English classes to women in the Corvallis area.

“They don’t have the same opportunity for upward mobility,” Hanson said. “They aren’t able to become a part of the broader community.”

Starting this fall, the Adult Basic Skills program’s class offerings will drop by about 75%, going from 35 classes to nine. Instead of taking GED preparation classes dedicated to separate subject areas — math, language arts, science and social studies — students will receive materials to self-study, with the option of asking a nearby instructor for help.

English learning classes used to be divided into different proficiency levels, but will now have learners of all levels studying the same materials.

“As an instructor and as somebody who’s done educational design, there’s no best practice involved in that,” Thompson Graham said. “That’s just putting people in a room and hoping that they get something out of it.”

Thompson Graham was removed as department coordinator during the program’s restructuring. She said her future with the program is “undefined.”

Thompson Graham described the changes as an equity issue. About half of students identify as Latino, while 60% speak a language other than English at home. The program also receives federal grant money to fund workforce development courses for economically disadvantaged students.

“This is a population in our community that can be very vulnerable,” Thompson Graham said.

She said the planned changes may be hard on students who have built relationships with LBCC.

“We have no answers for the students that we’re talking to every single day that are feeling betrayed,” Thompson Graham said. “I have heard numerous times, ‘Don’t we matter?’”

Ann Buchele, vice president of academic student affairs at LBCC, said the college had few options in addressing its looming budget shortfall.

Linn-Benton has seen 25% fewer students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Buchele said.

When considering how to reduce the budget deficit, she said officials looked to cut non-credit programs first, since the college doesn’t receive state funding for students enrolled in those classes.

“Anytime you reduce credit programs, you’re also reducing enrollment, compensation from the state, income,” Buchele said. “If the state gave us the money to work as we wanted, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But we are.”

Buchele said the reductions to Adult Basic Skills saved the college $500,000. It also significantly reduced its library faculty and eliminated its computer science and criminal justice programs.

Buchele acknowledged the reduced class offerings might mean not all adult learners interested in classes will be able to take them. She said the college will take the next year to collect feedback from students and consider changing the program in the future.

“We won’t know until we try,” she said.

Hanson anticipates the cutbacks will result in more people seeking English classes elsewhere. She has concerns about the cost and accessibility of other courses, as well as the strain the reductions will put on organizations like hers.

“If LBCC stops doing this, it’s very hard for other organizations to pick up the pieces,” she said. “They think that volunteers are going to do that, and volunteers are wonderful, but there’s a limit to what they can do.”

— Clio Koh, Lake Oswego High School

— Olivia Shreefter, St. Mary’s Academy

This story was produced by student reporters as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration among The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to