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Kaylee Meeds of Albany might have gone to the University of Oregon. Elsie Tucker of Corvallis might have tried to commute to a different community college.

And, if Linn-Benton Community College hadn't opened 50 years ago, Amanda Alexander of Albany and Robert Lee of Lebanon said they likely wouldn't be in school at all.

Monday marked the first day of the 2017-18 term for 7,085 students at LBCC. It was the 50th anniversary, to the date, of the day classes began at the community college in 1967.

Culinary arts students baked special yellow-frosted cupcakes, which administrators shaped into a giant "50" on a table in the cafeteria, to mark the occasion.

A bigger party is planned for 4 p.m. this Friday at Deluxe Brewing Co., 635 Water Ave. N.W., Albany. The no-host gathering will feature live music, a no-host bar and food truck, and a special edition "LBCC-inspired" IPA brewed by Deluxe.

The Roadrunner Red IPA is 7 percent alcohol by volume and 100 on the international bitterness unit scale, said Jamie Howard, Deluxe co-founder.

"It's all about inspiration and balance with the Roadrunner Red IPA," she said. "We were inspired to use the Strata hop, a brand new Oregon-grown hop, known for its tropical-citrus hop-forward flavors. It balances nicely with the caramel, malty body of a traditional Red IPA."

Howard said the brew is a small-batch beer that will go into production later this year.

"Yes, it will be available, but in limited quantities until it goes into production on our big system," she said, quipping: "Like a Roadrunner, it could go fast."

Voters agreed on Dec. 6, 1966, to form the community college education district that would become LBCC. Classes started Sept. 25, 1967, in a variety of locations across Linn and Benton counties. The commuting students came to call themselves "Roadrunners," which eventually became the college mascot.

The current 104-acre campus in Albany was completed in 1972. Today, the college has centers in Corvallis, Lebanon and Sweet Home, a horse center in Albany, and the Advanced Transportation Technology Center and the Healthcare Occupations Center in Lebanon.

The very first graduation, on June 12, 1969, saw 11 associate degrees and 48 certificates awarded to 59 students. In contrast, the June 2016 graduation awarded 990 total degrees and certificates to 820 students.

More than 20,000 students now take at least one class each year, and approximately 30 percent of in-district high school students come directly to LBCC after graduation, according to the college.

Students can earn an associate degree, transfer degree, or short-term certification, and community members and businesses have access to a wide-variety of classes and services offered through LBCC Extended Learning.

Enrollment as of Monday was down just a little so far this year, said Dale Stowell, executive director of advancement/foundation. As of Monday morning, the head count was down 4 percent and the full-time-equivalent was down 5 percent.

That's likely because of the strengthening economy, which often pulls would-be students away from classes and into the workforce. But the college is expecting to be back on track by spring quarter as students return to finish what they've started, Stowell said.

And, he said, it's worth noting that manufacturing-related enrollment is up. Welding, for instance, saw a 40 percent enrollment growth as of Monday.

Robert Lee, 22, currently in his second year at LBCC, said he took some welding classes last year before deciding to study geology instead. "The instructors are great," he said. "This is a very, very good school." 

If it weren't for the community college, Lee said, he doubts he'd be in school at all. He earned a modified diploma in high school and didn't take the SAT and said he didn't think Oregon State University would have been the best choice. 

Amanda Alexander, 18, started at LBCC on Monday intending to study pharmacy. If the college had never been founded, she said she'd likely have spent Monday "at home and work, probably. I would not be going to college, for sure." 

Linn-Benton offers affordability and access, both key factors in being able to go to school, Alexander said. 

Kaylee Meeds agreed. The 18-year-old, who is working on general studies, could have gone to the University of Oregon but said she prefers a smaller campus. Besides, she said, "I live right next door. Easy commute." 

Elsie Tucker, 18, she likely would have tried to find another community college, but the commute from Corvallis would have made things harder.

A community college is like a trial university, said Tucker, who is studying psychology. Plus it's a great way for her to meet new people while still seeing a reassuring number of familiar faces from her hometown or graduating class.

"It's kind of that feeling, 'Oh, I"m not the only one,'" she said, laughing. "I'm not the only one confused."


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