In early April, Linn-Benton Community College administrators blamed a failure in registration and scheduling protocol for putting the degree paths and credit requirements for up to 20 degree-seeking students in limbo for weeks. After an LBCC dean revealed to students enrolled in the college’s three-year graphic arts program that their program did not exist and might not have ever existed, students continued traveling from homes across the region to attend the competitive classes. Several anguished students fell ill, and others mourned a loss of creativity, focus, and confidence. Worry and disbelief dripped from students scheduled to graduate this year.
As administrators scrambled to rectify the omission, some students were informed that they’d be receiving general education diplomas, instead of degrees that specified their graphic arts training and coursework. Students complained about an opaque administrative process, a lack of reliable information, and conflicting accounts from staff, and they also expressed concern for graphic arts faculty jobs.
Good News, LBCC Will Make Good; Here’s How
Dale Stowell, executive director of institutional advancement at LBCC, assured this reporter that all LBCC students who had “expressed interest” in the intensive three-year program would be allowed to finish all required courses. Stowell blamed a communication breakdown for the error that led some students to question both the meaning and value of their LBCC coursework. Under no uncertain terms, Stowell guaranteed to offer a full “teach-out” and to staff necessary courses to allow even current first-years the opportunity to pursue the technical degree.
Also, since a graphic arts program had once existed at LBCC as a specialization available to visual communication students, Stowell guaranteed that “Visual Communications/Graphic Arts” would appear on student diplomas. Stowell could not guarantee that current faculty would necessarily be retained to staff “teach-out” courses, and had no comment regarding the status of state funds that may have been allocated or disbursed to the phantom program. Stowell would not discuss rumors of offers of tuition refunds or offers of student loan forgiveness.
Stowell said, “Once something goes in to the catalog, everybody has every reason to believe that it’s a program. So our faculty saw it in the catalog—they believed it was a program—our advisors saw it, our students saw it, and so that missed hand-off which allowed it to go in the catalog set off a string of dominoes.” As far as the “missed hand-off,” Stowell said the administrators “identified a flaw that we needed to fix. We believe that we have the process in place now to fix it, and this will not happen again. We have this resolved.”
Learning about Stowell’s statement only by word of mouth, students were frustrated anew by staff’s seeming inability or refusal to document and communicate administrators’ assurances in writing. One senior student—a mother of two—had declined a high-paying job three years ago, choosing instead to enroll in the highly regarded LBCC program. She now says she regrets that decision and questions the market value of the alternative diploma offered. Another student—a mother who had long dreamed of attending college—also expressed disbelief and shock at the magnitude of the clerical snafu.
By Paul Henry