By Chris Collins
Drew Leggett and Greg McCarty aren't at all surprised about Blue Mountain Community College's steadily rising enrollment in Baker County.
That's because they are two satisfied customers counted in the numbers that have increased from 71 FTE (full-time equivalent) in 2005-2006 to 211 in 2010-11.
Peggy Hudson, who directs BMCC programs in Baker County, said there are lots of good reasons for the enrollment increases, beginning with expanded course offerings and the high quality staff.
"This new opportunity to take more college classes was met with students who are eager to take local college classes and who need educational services while working, staying at home and saving money for their families," Hudson wrote in an email to the Baker City Herald.
"There is now the opportunity to get a degree with live, face-to-face classes that was not available before, and students are responding to that," she said.
McCarty and Leggett, who both have transferred to Eastern Oregon University to pursue bachelor's degrees, say they got a good start at the community college level.
The two were among 41 students who participated in the graduation ceremony at Pendleton on June 15. The number near to completing their degrees was at 73 this spring, Hudson said. Eight or nine faculty members also joined the students to walk during commencement, she said.
About 300 Baker County residents traveled to Pendleton for the ceremony, which celebrated the community college's 50th anniversary. And 250 joined a celebration at Abby's Pizza Parlor afterward.
McCarty worked full-time while attending BMCC classes to gain prerequisites that prepared him for the Oregon Health and Science University nursing program at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. His ultimate goal is to work as a LifeFlight nurse.
The 49-year-old returned to school after a 20-year career as a truck driver.
But it was the four years he spent as a Navy corpsman providing emergency medical services to Navy and Marine Corps units and another two years in the reserves that beckoned him back to school.
"When I was younger I didn't really value education," he said. "I thought I had better things to do."
McCarty completed 12 years of school, but didn't have enough credits to receive a diploma from his Portland high school before he joined the Navy. Instead he earned a GED after finishing his military service.
His attitude about education has changed over the years, he says.
"I wanted a better life for my family and myself," he said. "The only way to do that was to get an education, so I pursued something I should have done 20 years ago."
His veterans benefits help pay the cost, which came at a discount at the community college level.
At BMCC, the cost is about $45 less per credit than the nearest competitor, Hudson said.
"I like the quality of the classes and the convenience of it," McCarty said of his BMCC experience.
He was able to attend classes on site or online.
"The instructors treated every student with dignity and respect," he said. "I just want to thank them all for helping me achieve my goal."
McCarty said his gratitude also extends to the BMCC office staff in Baker City, including Hudson.
McCarty is looking forward to attending college full time next fall as one of 30 students - from an applicant pool of about 90 - accepted into the prestigious OHSU nursing program.
"To gain something like that is not only an accomplishment for the student, but an achievement by the instructors," McCarty said.
Leggett, a 2005 Baker High School graduate, is enrolled in the Oregon State University ag science program at EOU.
He said he is about five credits shy of his associate transfer degree and was encouraged by Hudson to finish up and walk with the graduates during the June ceremony.
Leggett, who started his college career part-time in 2006 while preparing for a mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will have senior status in the ag program after fall term.
He was prepared to serve a two-year mission in San Jose, Calif., but returned home after about eight months because of leg problems caused by Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes pain and results in weakness in the legs of children and adolescents.
Leggett said he originally had planned to complete his associate degree at BMCC and then transfer to OSU to study agricultural economics. But circumstances drew him to choose a program closer to home.
His help was needed on the Muddy Creek farm where his parents, Deryl and Carolyn Leggett, grow alfalfa and wheat crops. And when his grandmother, Doris Leggett, moved in with his parents, her home in La Grande was available for him to live in while he pursued his degree.
Once he obtains his undergraduate degree, which will include a minor in business administration from EOU and a minor in crops from OSU, Leggett plans to continue at Eastern where to earn a master's degree in education with an agricultural endorsement. He hopes to teach at a university or community college after completing his education.
And for that he thanks the instructors that have brought him to this point in his life.
"I see the difference they have made in me and I'd like to do the same thing for others," he says.
And at some point, his ultimate goal is to take over operation of the family farm.
Leggett said his high school career was somewhat lackluster, but he's made a big improvement at the college level, earning A's in most of his classes.
He credits his start at BMCC with setting him on that course during his college career.
"I've had just a wonderful experience," he said, noting the one-on-one attention he received at BMCC vs. the large class sizes he'd have had to deal with on the Corvallis campus.
"A lot of the professors are either retired from a profession or teach as a side thing," he said. "They're teaching there because they really enjoy it. They're more driven for the students."
That included Cheyleen Davis, who'd been his seventh-grade biology instructor at Baker Middle School; Dr. Helen Loennig, who also works as a pharmacist at Bi-Mart; accountant Dave Lindley; and retired Baker English teachers Diane Ellingson and Eloise Dielman. And he credits instructor Randy Johnston with helping him succeed in math at the college level.
"All of those instructors were really concerned for me as an individual," he said. "They were willing to take the time one-on-one for me," he added. "And I attribute that to the academic success I had there.
"Overall the experience was just great," he said. "I'm absolutely thrilled to see the program in Baker grow like it has."
Hudson said the graduation ceremony was the highlight of her six-year tenure as director of the BMCC program for Baker County.
"It was an absolutely wonderful experience to see the student and their families celebrating," she said. "We're building people and helping people get degrees, and that's just really a good feeling."