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Community colleges to ask legislature for $32 million to mitigate tuition increases
Photos and Story by James Hill
This legislative session, the state’s 17 community colleges will ask the Oregon Legislature to allocate an additional $32 million to the Community College Support Fund (CCSF) to mitigate tuition increases and restore funding for student advising in the second year of the 2017-2019 biennium.
At the end of the 2017 legislative session, the Joint Ways and Means Committee restored more than $70 million to the Public Universities Support Fund (PUSF) to keep the cost of tuition down, but only invested $6 million to do the same at the community colleges.
The lack of funding at the state level forces tuition increases at the local level at both community colleges and public universities. Each are critical parts of the education continuum, and the legislature must support both.
In the last two biennia, the legislature’s investment to the PUSF has grown at twice the rate of property tax and general funding going toward the Community College Support Fund (CCSF). For example, in the 2017 session, general fund dollars into the PUSF increased nearly 27 percent compared to just 13 percent for the CCSF.“The lack of funding at the state level forces tuition increases at the community college level. Our colleges serve students with the greatest academic, financial and social challenges, but receive less per student in public funding than our university counterparts,” Dave Hunt, Oregon Community College Association vice president and Clackamas Community College Board of Education member, said. “The legislature must work to ensure students in both community colleges and public universities have the support needed to succeed.”
Studies have shown that students are 11 times more likely to persist fall-to-fall if they regularly meet with advisors. At Clackamas Community College, the student to advisor ratio is 683 to one, far from the recommended ratio of 300 to one. If community colleges can decrease the ratio, more students will persist and succeed.
A decrease in enrollment and funding by the state, coupled with rising costs, has forced Portland Community College to increase tuition to $104 the first year of the 2017-19 biennium and to $111 in the second year — up from $97 in 2015-17. Raising tuition has a dramatic and adverse impact on students at both CCC and PCC. A large percentage of students at both colleges experience food insecurity; every dollar they have to put toward tuition is a dollar taken away from meeting their fundamental, basic needs, like food or housing.
Funding levels have impacted advising and support services at PCC, as well. Research shows that providing wrap-around support services (advising, tutoring, coaching, mentoring) improves students’ chances for academic success and graduation. Limited investment by the state has pressed PCC to find ways to nest such identified support services into a handful of programs, funded through generous donations by municipalities and private donors. Future Connect, a scholarship and support program for low-income, first-generation PCC students, is one such example. The program boosts college completion or transfer rates within three years by 11 percent.
But the number of students with access to these service lines through specialized programs is small compared to the total number of full-time and part-time students PCC serves – more than 75,000.
“Community colleges serve as a critical bridge between K-12 and the universities, and provide services to students across the continuum. Investing in community colleges helps build student success across the education spectrum,” said Denise Frisbee, Oregon Community College Association president and Portland Community College Board of Directors member.
Oregon’s community colleges are taking dramatic steps to create and implement transformative change on their campuses in an effort to best serve students. Guided Pathways is one model being adopted, which helps students understand how to successfully navigate their academic journey so they enroll in the right classes at the right time – saving them time and money long term. Investment by the state in community colleges now will enable the institutions to continue this work, profoundly changing how they deliver services to students and achieve the highest outcomes.