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By Janie Har December 15, 2010

MHCC says it can't afford salaries "far above the average of community colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.”

Administrators and faculty at Mount Hood Community College are negotiating a new contract in a tight budget year. The 2010-11 budget is expected to fall $5 million short of projected needs. Administrators want to curb salaries and benefits, arguing that faculty at the two-year school in Gresham are the most generously compensated in the Northwest.

Mt. Hood enrolls about 33,000 students and is in the top five of Oregon's 17 community colleges. It lacks the profile given its larger sisters -- Portland and Clackamas community colleges -- yet, here are two surprising claims from Mt. Hood’s website and press release:

  • MHCC full-time faculty have the highest average pay among all 54 community colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. (Source: National Education Association (NEA) data, April 2010).
  • Based on 2009-10 data, the base salary for full-time faculty at the top step is 8.2 percent above the average of the five comparator schools ($80,864 v. $74,735). The five Oregon community colleges most like MHCC are Chemeketa, Clackamas, Lane, Linn-Benton and Portland.

In a Nov. 22 statement, the college says: "We can no longer pay salaries to our most experienced faculty that are far above the average of community colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho."

PolitiFact Oregon never realized community college pay could be so rewarding to paychecks, and so crushing to a school’s budget. The numbers, we figured, would be easy to vet.

In the faculty negotiations section of Mt. Hood’s website is a link to the National Education Association’s higher education salary study, released this spring. The average salary for faculty at Mt. Hood was $69,200 in 2008-09 -- indeed the highest of 17 community colleges in Oregon, 34 community colleges in Washington, and three schools in Idaho. The average benefit at Mt. Hood for the year was $27,800, again the highest of 54 colleges. Total average pay and benefits came to $97,000.

For context, average faculty pay at Portland Community College, the state’s largest two-year, was $62,100 with benefits at $23,800 for a total $85,900 in 2008-09. Faculty at Clackamas Community College averaged $66,000 in salary and $24,600 in benefits, for a total $90,600.  

(It looks as if Mt. Hood and Clackamas were more in line in 2007-08. Average compensation at Mt. Hood was $94,400, and $93,900 at Clackamas. Salaries are based on nine- or 10-month  contracts.) So you can check the first claim as True.

The second claim is that base salary for full-time faculty at top scale at Mt. Hood was more than 8 percent higher than average top pay of community colleges closest in size to Mt. Hood, in 2009-10. The numbers pencil out, based on Mt. Hood’s figures. The average of top salaries at Clackamas, Chemeketa, Linn-Benton, Lane and Portland community colleges is $74,735, compared with $80,864 at Mt. Hood, or a difference of 8.2 percent.

We checked with contracts for the individual schools and confirmed that Mt. Hood’s figures are pretty much correct, with the exception of Lane Community College, which was off by roughly $1,000 so the difference is actually 7.3 percent. In any case, it’s a similar sized gap.

But Shannon Valdivia, a speech instructor at Mt. Hood, raises an excellent question of calendar years. Colleges differ in how many days to expect of faculty. So faculty at Mt. Hood and at Portland worked 180-day calendars in 2009-10; Linn-Benton faculty worked 164 days; Chemeketa, Clackamas and Lane had 175 days. Calculate by day, and top earners at Linn-Benton earned the most at $475 a day. Mt. Hood came in second with $449 earned a day.

The average of the five schools was $431.24 a day -- or 4 percent less than Mt. Hood’s $449.
Now, we’re skipping comparisons based on health benefits because faculty choose different types of plans. But know that Mt. Hood is on the nicer side with faculty kicking in a maximum of $75 a month for family coverage. On a per-day basis, top base pay at Mt. Hood and Linn-Benton are comparable. So we’ll rate claim No. 2 Half True.

So, why is pay at Mt. Hood so high? Well, more than half of the 156 faculty at the college are at top scale. That’s a large percentage. Eighty people are in step 1 of a 14-step pay scale; 76 are in steps 2 to 14. The faculty union says some people were hired at too high a step; college administrators say the increase between steps is too big. (Faculty climb from one "step" to the next once a year; people who are at the top step will get cost-of-living adjustments if bargained for.) But that’s neither here nor there.  

If you combine the two claims together, we rate the overall claim on pay as Mostly True. It’s accurate -- average pay is high in large part because top tier pay is high, and so many people are in that top tier -- but it needs just a tiny bit of additional information on pay broken down by day.

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Our Sources

National Education Association, "Advocate Salary Review," 2009  

National Education Association, "Advocate Salary Review," 2010 (excerpts at Mt. Hood Community College)

Mt. Hood Community College, "Financial Statement from Mt. Hood Community College District Board of Education," Nov. 22, 2010

Mt. Hood Community College," Town Hall Meetings Frequently Asked Questions," 2009

E-mail from Maggie Huffman, Mt. Hood Community College spokeswoman, Dec. 10, 2010

Interview with Shannon Valdivia, Mt. Hood Community College faculty , Dec. 7, 2010

Interview with Sara Williams, Mt. Hood Community College faculty, Dec. 7, 2010  


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MHCC says it can't afford salaries "far above the average of community colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.”

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