Column: Why the Malheur Enterprise is hosting a community Town Hall

By Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

Let me explain something.

In this week’s Enterprise, you are learning about a special Town Hall. The meeting on March 16 is all about Treasure Valley Community College.

Who organized the Town Hall? The Enterprise.

Who is running the Town Hall? The Enterprise.

Who set the agenda? The Enterprise.

Here’s why.

In Malheur County, our community college is indeed a treasure. Local folks created it 55 years ago, borrowing space from Ontario High School for a few classes. Today, it operates out of a campus with 14 buildings. It serves an impressive student body – those looking for an associate’s degree, those preparing for a four-year college, those returning to the classroom to train for a new career.

Most important, it seems, is serving those who otherwise would have no chance at college. This county is the most impoverished in the state. That means more of our students are going to have a challenge to ever get any higher education. Cost is a huge barrier. Treasure Valley gives students affordable, stay-at-home education. That’s crucial for some students to rise above poverty and succeed.

The college, too, is vital to the economic future of the county. Trained workers can be in short supply, depending on the career. Treasure Valley has tried to be flexible to put together programs that both teach students and train workers. If our area is to retain and attract growing employers, we need to be sure they will have plenty of job applicants. Treasure Valley is one way to assure that.

But Treasure Valley has been in rough waters. Enrollment has declined since 2010. That puts pressure on college finances, already buffeted by the uncertainties of state budgets. In recent months, tensions over the college have broken into the open. Critics have taken a stick to college leaders, sometimes very publicly. A lot of energy has been drained by these internal disputes.

What seems to be missing is a broader view and a more hopeful gaze.

That’s where you and the Enterprise can team up.

Yes, the college’s volunteer board members serve as representatives of the community. Yes, the college has various advisory boards that include business leaders.

Still, a broader tapping of community opinion could be useful, particularly for two questions that keep swirling in my head. Why are some students not buying what the college has to sell? That’s one way to read declining enrollments. The second question: What does the community today want and expect from its local college?

The Town Hall is a chance for you and others to offer some answers. This is not going to be a gripe session. This is not for finger pointing. This is a chance to learn and then to comment. This is about all of us working collectively for the college and for the community.

This is no small undertaking, especially for a small outfit such as the Enterprise. But it is our duty – to help address community issues in a thoughtful, effective way. We can report on issues, and we can offer opinions on the editorial page. But we can also help host community discussions such as this that afford for all points of view, from middle school students to retired business executives.

One of my favored management sayings is: “Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution.” I have great faith that people sharing ideas and opinions in this Town Hall can do just that.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise. Email: [email protected]