Slimmed-down Sierra College ag, auto, construction programs back on

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Three threatened vocational courses at Sierra College are off the chopping block for now. The Sierra College board approved limited continuation of vocational automotive, agriculture and construction programs Tuesday but are due to revisit their status in November. The possibility of a shutdown of the programs had sparked anger from many students, teachers and community members and resulted in a shift in strategy by the college. Instead of ending the longtime vocational programs in the face of a potential $10.7 million funding shortfall next year, school officials are continuing stripped-down versions and embarking on a collaborative process to determine whether they should stay or go in the future. Threatened closure of the courses drew an estimated 700 people to the college’s Dietrich Theater a month ago for a lengthy, boisterous board meeting. Board members backed away from plans to drop the programs. Instead, their message to President Leo Chavez was that they wanted staff to work on potential ways to keep them running at reduced funding levels for the time being. Rachel Rosenthal, vice president of instruction, outlined plans at Tuesday’s meeting that would see fulltime vocational faculty retained but classes drastically cut back. Agriculture, for instance, will have 40 percent fewer course offerings while dropping animal science and equine studies. “The sole focus next year will be on ag,” Rosenthal said. “We can’t offer the same breadth of courses.” The agriculture program has about 300 students, automotive courses enroll 200 students a semester, and construction classes attract about 200 students. Jay Hester, the school’s academic senate president, said a new “program vitality committee” will explore the school’s and the community’s needs in relation to the three programs and recommend to the board in the fall on whether to keep them. A third option would be to retain programs in the next budget year while attempting to revive them. Unlike last month’s meeting, Tuesday’s attracted fewer than 40 people and no angry or boisterous responses. After the meeting, part-time horticulture student Jean Wilson of Loomis said she was pleased to see a process has been worked out to give the programs a chance to continue. “My hope is the programs can continue in a skeleton form for now and be revived later on,” Wilson said. “They have a chance to prove their worth.”