SOU Retrenchment May Affect Local College-Going Rates

By Tamara Henderson

Linda Hugle, former principal of three different schools in the Three Rivers School District, speaks about the challenges SOU’s retrenchment process may have on the college going rates of local residents. (Photo Cred: Tamara Henderson)

Linda Hugle, former principal of three different schools in the Three Rivers School District, speaks about the challenges SOU’s retrenchment process may have on the college going rates of local residents. (Photo Cred: Tamara Henderson)

For those who support the building of a college-going culture in the Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon University’s recent budget woes, retrenchment and proposed changes in governance make the job of encouraging students to go to college that much more difficult.

Lifelong educator and resident of Wimer, OR, Linda Hugle says that students and families who don’t see college as a part of their path often have a limited knowledge of the college going process. Hugle explains that when budget and governance concerns are as public as they have been in the past year with Southern Oregon University, it can lead to misinformation.

Many of the parents in the school districts where Hugle has served are not college educated. Therefore, there is a limited knowledge about how the college itself and the college-going process works. Hugle believes the lack of knowledge can lead to fears that are not grounded in reality. All of this makes the job of getting more students to college even more challenging than it already was.

“It’s already a hard sell to sell the importance of college to a family who haven’t seen it as a reality,” Hugle said. “The minute somebody throws some cold water on it in terms of cost and program offerings, it becomes even harder.”

“Knowing there was a regional point of access made the whole idea of going to college a lot more comfortable because they can see the schools close to home as an entry point,” she continued.

Students and families who begin to believe that the local point of access may not be a viable option may not look elsewhere for an education. Instead, the lack of access may confirm the belief that college is not the right place for some students and they may look to alternative post-high school options.

Hugle went on to explain that an increase in university costs is felt by everybody.

“As students bear more and more of the cost [of a college education], that becomes more of a disincentive,” she explained.

Hugle explained that while some students may not be tuned into this process, as a school narrows their offerings as a college, they are inherently narrowing the number of students that are interested in that college. This causes fewer students to think of the institution as their destination.

From Hugle’s experience, Music, Education, and Criminology were some of the SOU programs that attracted the largest number of students she served. SOU’s retrenchment plan includes reductions within both the Music and Criminology departments, with some programs being eliminated such as the Criminology and Criminal Justice Forensics concentration. Such eliminations could impact enrollment from regional students if Hugle’s experience matches today’s reality.

Issues such as these raise very real concerns for the educational attainment rates of local citizens. At a time when more and more educators are working to get students to attend some form of postsecondary education, the impacts of SOU’s budget troubles may have unintended consequences on the college-going rates of the Rogue Valley’s high school graduates.

Hugle serves on the board of directors for the Oregon College Access Network and considers herself someone with a passion for getting youth to higher education. Hugle, now retired, was the principal of North Valley High School from 2005-2010. She held several positions prior to that including principal of another school in the Three Rivers School District, Special Education Specialist for the district and teacher.

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