Angel Eneli, 21, entered Tongue Point Job Corps Center 10 months ago from Idaho by way of American Samoa to gain her certification as a landscape technician before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Paul Roach, a 23-year-old facilities maintenance student from Cave Junction, starts work Monday at Providence Seaside Hospital after interning there for three months – his supervisor, Ken York, was also a Job Corps graduate.
Tongue Point Job Corps Center, a free education and vocational job training program just outside Astoria that often takes in and releases between 15 to 20 young men and women such as Roach and Eneli per week, could face a one-third overall enrollment decrease by the end of June because of a five-month enrollment freeze handed down by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor, which administers the program through the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), froze overall enrollment from the end of January until the end of June as the agency tries to dig out of a $61.5-million budget hole many have blamed on mismanagement of the nation’s largest job-training program.
“Our projection is … at the end of June, we’d be down to about 350 students (from the maximum of 525),” said Tita Montero, the business and community liaison at Tongue Point, about the expected completion of students over the next 18 weeks without anyone replacing them.
The program was started in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, with a stated goal to help “young people ages 16 through 24 improve the quality of their lives through vocational and academic training.”
“Every week that goes by, young people are denied enrollment at Job Corps,” said Celeste McDonald, a spokeswoman for Management and Training Corporation (MTC). “It’s a travesty to these young people.”
MTC, based in Centerville, Utah, fully operates Tongue Point and 17 other Job Corps centers across the country.
The National Job Corps Association, which represents private operators of 97 of the program’s 125 centers, said the freeze could affect 30,000 potential students and 10,000 staff positions nationwide.
“The decision to temporarily freeze Job Corps enrollment nationwide was extremely difficult,” said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the ETA. “It came after we implemented many alternative cost-savings measures, albeit insufficient ones.”
In a response Tuesday to a bipartisan letter from 71 members of Congress, Oates pointed to three new Job Corps centers opened in the last three years without dedicated operating funds, serious weaknesses in the ETA’s and Job Corps’ financial management processes and a slow, inadequate cost-cutting response as the reasons behind resorting to freezing enrollment.
Effects on Tongue Point
Tongue Point, with a maximum capacity of 525 students, was at 518 students as of Thursday – 17 of them from Clatsop County. It’s already expected to complete 16 to 20 more students today.
Montero said Tongue Point also sends up to 30 students per term to Clatsop Community College’s Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station (MERTS) for advanced training. As the freezes also apply to advanced training, that flow of students will dry up as well.
McDonald said MTC keeps an average 1-to-3 employee-to-student ratio, meaning inevitable cuts in staff as enrollment falls. Approximately 190 people are employed by MTC at Tongue Point, although it’s unclear how many of them will be laid off as a result of enrollment freezes. Unions also subsidize instructors for some of the 16 trades taught at Tongue Point.
“If you don’t have a full complement of students, then you don’t need a full complement of staff,” said McDonald, adding that the effects of the freeze will arrive through stop work orders to various sectors of Job Corps, which has already begun laying off recruitment officers.
Montero said leadership at Tongue Point has tried to be honest with staff about the reality of the situation and will try to minimize layoffs.
“We don’t expect it to last past June 30,” said Deanne Amaden, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor based in San Francisco, about the freeze. “What we’re trying to do is realize enough savings so we can lift the suspension.”
She said that some high-risk students, such as those living in homeless shelters and in the foster care system, are still being admitted. Critics have responded, though, that the standards for such admittance are almost impossible to meet, and in effect there’s a near total enrollment freeze.
Public responds in outcry
Letters about the freezes have poured into the Department of Labor, including one bipartisan effort by 71 members of Congress sent Jan. 25 to Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris requesting explanations and a 30-day moratorium on the freezes. At its Tuesday meeting, the Astoria City Council approved letters to Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, thanking and urging them for their support of the program.
“With the current economy, more than ever it is imperative that we provide youth with an opportunity to find full-time jobs so they can become self-sufficient, or have the opportunity to enter into advanced training and educational programs,” read the letters by the city.
Estimates by Job Corps place its economic impact at more than $11 million a year in the Astoria area, including wages paid and spent, the buying of goods, spending by students, tuition payments to the college and payments for transportation to Sunset Empire Transportation District.
Job Corps students amassed more than 3,500 career training service hours to the U.S. Coast Guard, Clatsop Care Center, the college, Astoria Downtown Historic District Association and many other community groups in 2012. Students also invested more than 5,000 hours in other community service to various groups.
Students come to change their lives
Karlena Courtney, a 25-year old welding student from Gold Bar, Wash., brought someone else for orientation and caught on herself. She finally enrolled for a change of life, after more than a year spent unemployed.
“There’s a career out there for me,” said Courtney, “and I never saw myself in this position.”
Tongue Point is the second oldest Job Corps center in the U.S., established in February of 1965 on the former naval base on the eastern edge of Astoria. Students come to complete training in any one of 16 trades, including those in the construction, medical, facilities maintenance, maritime and information technology industries. The average duration of training at Tongue Point is 10 to 12 months.
Scott Lambert, a 21-year-old from Knappa, spent a year and a half on the waiting list to join Tongue Point’s minimum 18-month seamanship program, the only such Job Corps program in the nation, to become a certified merchant marine.
“My ultimate goal would be to become a river pilot,” said Lambert, who’s been in training to become a relief deckhand for the Columbia River Bar Pilots and thinks he’ll be done with his program in August.
Previous graduates from the Job Corps program in Oregon and elsewhere have taken prominent roles in Clatsop County, including Senior County Planner Jennifer Bunch, Fred Meyer Store Manager Justin Downs, York at Providence Seaside and others.
Tongue Point calls all students leaving “separations,” including those kicked out and leaving for medical reasons. Ordinary separations mean a student completed some sort of academic and/or certification program during the program year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.
From program year 2007-08 to 2011-12, Tongue Point Job Corps Center has:
• Averaged 535 students enrolling in and leaving from the program yearly, 53 percent of them after completing some sort of academic program or technical certification;
• Increased its net rate of ordinary separations by 26 percent; and
• Decreased its discipline terminations by 9 percent.
For more information about Tongue Point Job Corps Center, visit www.jobcorpsnews.org/tonguepoint
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.