Sierra College’s horticulture program cut | SierraSun.com

Sierra College’s horticulture program cut

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE “-Declining enrollment in Sierra College’s environmental horticulture program is forcing the college to shut down one of its longest running departments and take a closer look at others, according to an associate dean.

Students already enrolled in the programs that foster a knowledge of plants and how to grow them have three more semesters before the department is shut down for good.

“We evaluated all of our programs. It’s the only one at a risk of this level,” said Michael Kane, associate dean of Math and Science. “The demand isn’t there in a demonstrable way for us.”

Last week, school officials met with students who were “not happy” and “understandably upset” by the announcement.

The school’s environmental horticulture program has a strong link with local master gardener circuits, said Marcia Braga, the department’s director and only full-time staff teacher.

Pinpointing the reason for the sluggish enrollment is hard to do but could stem from several factors, Kane said.

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The number of well paying jobs tied to horticulture, such as landscaping and nursery work, could be down, as well as the number of people interested in that type of work, Kane said.

Finding a job in a horticulture-based field may not require a degree, Kane said. People interested in landscaping already are working in the field and often too tired after a day of physical labor to commit to school, Braga said. The program has attracted a mix of younger students, aged 18 to 24, with a strong showing of older and sometimes retired students looking for enrichment.

A full time student enrolled in 12 units per semester can receive a certificate in environmental horticulture after about three semesters, Kane said.

Closing the program will not impact remaining classes for students on track to finish, Kane said.

The closure is an emotional one for Braga, who has worked in the department for 27 years. She has stood out as the department’s director and only full time staff person for the past eight years.

“My heart and soul is in that program. I’ve been going through a real mourning for it,” she said.

The department was plagued by limited funding that restricted staff hiring and the types of resources available to the department.

Keeping the program running with its diverse curriculum ranging from plant propagation and identification to soils and irrigation was a challenge for a single faculty department.

“It’s difficult to grow when you don’t have resources,” Kane said.

In recent years, the college tightened the scheduling of its core courses in an effort to boost enrollment and save the program to no avail.

Classes continued to average filling 60 percent of seats at best, not enough to keep the program economically sustainable, Kane said. Five core courses could remain a part of the agricultural department’s certificate and degree program, Kane said.

The college will retrain Braga for a career in counseling. A former nursery owner, Braga has mentored her 28-year-old son at his new business venture, Far Star Farm on Indian Springs Road ” work she says she hopes to continue.

“Horticulture and plants will always be a part of me and what I’m doing in my life. You just can’t let that go. It’s in your blood,” Braga said.