Last week, everyone’s favorite Commander-in-Chief gave his first and, without question, the greatest and bestest State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress so far. A requirement under the U.S. Constitution, the annual report is a chance for the president to give a personal assessment of the state of economic and foreign affairs affecting America, as well as pitch a legislative agenda.

As per usual, Donny didn’t disappoint, hitting political hot buttons at every turn. While there’s a lot to say, we at the Advocate decided to steer clear of political commentary and keep our focus a little more local. We, instead, present to you the first, and without question, the greatest and bestest State of MHCC address for 2018.

Positives noted

Last year saw a big push on Mt Hood’s part to get a physical-upgrade bond measure approved by taxpayers, an effort which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Coupling this with a chronic lag in state funding in the face of rising operational costs (a trend not unique to Mt Hood), the college has had to make some extremely difficult choices.

In light of this, we at the Advocate feel the college has done an admirable job, in some regards.

Study programs such as mechatronics, broadcasting and Subaru U will produce technical skills that will be needed in the coming years, ones which will build a competitive workforce, not to mention job opportunities for students almost immediately after graduation – in the case of broadcasting and KXL Radio, for instance – and Mt. Hood’s strong nursing program.

MHCC leaders have made a noticeable effort to listen and respond to students’ concerns. The registration process, formerly a convoluted, Sisyphean affair, has been significantly streamlined. The Student Finance Council, too, was more involved than it’s been in previous years, with greater focus on participants better understanding their budgeting options and authority as students, independent of control by advisers or coaches.

Regarding inclusiveness, the college has made two excellent hires in Gaby Lunasco and Felisciana Peralta, as Diversity Resource Center coordinator and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director, respectively. It also has emphasized a supportive, welcoming stance on undocumented persons, affirming its sanctuary status. These efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Some classes ‘a joke’.

That being said, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

It is hard to isolate which negative factors are institutional, with respect to higher education overall. Or, to all four-year schools, or community colleges, in general, or to Mt Hood in particular – and also, how much owes to Oregon’s substandard education funding mechanism.

However, it’s not likely you will find many other schools with lesson plans consisting of a Planet Earth episode, or lessons that depend on an instructor’s ability to remember their HBO-Go password (or not). We’re often told, “You get what you pay for,” and while Mt Hood’s tuition rates are comparatively affordable, it is still frustrating when students report such examples of abundantly free, online resources being used in class, in lieu of actual, hands-on instruction.

Part of it, no doubt, is the college’s cost-cutting strategy of utilizing more adjunct faculty. These part-time teachers are less expensive for Mt. Hood, but as with any underpaid position, the quality of instructors’ work can be affected by a low salary.

This is not the case with all instructors, or even most: Many adjunct faculty also teach at four-year universities and see no reason to give community college students a lesser experience. Just because you’re part-time doesn’t mean you’re not giving the students a good education.

And yet, every person on this newspaper staff has taken at least one class at Mt. Hood that, academically speaking, was a joke.

Inflation worries

Which leads to our next point: There are few, if any, institutional systems in place for ensuring consistent quality from class to class. Sure, there are the email surveys the administration sends out every quarter, and instructors often administer self-evaluations, but it’s not enough. We’re not asking for constant auditing or Orwellian surveillance to ensure instructional quality; we just want a challenging academic environment from instructors who are, if not engaged, then at the very least, not apathetic.

As a community college, a primary goal is to prepare students for their next step, especially those pursuing transfer degrees. Leading to our next complaint: grade inflation. MHCC’s GPA system does not differentiate between pluses and minuses. In other words, getting a 79.5 in a class is the same as getting an 89.4, and getting straight 89.5s will show up as a 4.0 on an official transcript.

While this is great for students winning scholarships and getting accepted into four-year schools, the academic rigor at most universities may come as a shock to students used to Mt Hood’s sometimes-fluffy workload and expectations.

A ‘force for good’

Ultimately, we come back to this realization: In contrast to four-year schools that rely on loading massive student debt on their patrons, community colleges have long offered a foot in the door for traditionally underserved communities. And, in that regard, MHCC does a phenomenal job.

Due to the success and generosity of the MHCC Foundation, students who work hard and excel academically can see a significant portion of their (comparatively) low tuition waived. Academic success opens doors to grant and scholarship opportunities at subsequent schools, too, further reducing student debt. While we Mt. Hood students may miss out on the media-glorified, Animal House-esque “quintessential” college experience, replete with Greek life, bacchanalia and parties galore, the sweet parties we could later throw with the money saved will more than make up for it.

What’s more, MHCC has consistently been a place where students can figure out what they want their life to look like. Every person on this paper knows the difference the Mt. Hood community has made in their life: The doors it’s opened, the connections it’s fostered, the debates it’s sparked, the caffeine addictions it’s enabled.

It has its problems, but this institution has, by and large, proved a force for good in the lives of many people who would otherwise have been overlooked by society.

In conclusion: As students, would we like to see some changes at MHCC? Of course! Would it be great if the administration could snap its fingers and make that happen? Sure. Could we use a little more money from the state? Always. Does Mt Hood, as a college, make a difference in the lives of every student who attends? Without a doubt. Are we grateful for the experience we’ve gotten? Most days.

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