Day at the Capitol attracts nearly 100 PCC champions, who build case for investment
Community colleges are a fundamental part of the educational pipeline, but funding for them hasn’t kept pace with costs. Comparing per student support by the state of Oregon, community colleges receive half of what public universities receive. Even more stark are statistics surrounding philanthropic giving to higher education institutions in the U.S.: Only two percent of the total supports community colleges and their students.
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, nearly a hundred students, faculty and staff from Portland Community College braved a brief snow shower and frigid temperatures to tell their stories of access and success to Oregon’s top legislators, which served to combat the dire budget realities. Many PCC students were the stars of the day judging by the college’s Twitter Moment of the event. By sharing their personal stories of overcoming obstacles so they could succeed at PCC, students put a face on the issue of how increased funding can ease their financial burden and help them achieve their academic and career goals and objectives.
One of these students was Claire DeLap (Medical Lab Technology Program) of Southeast Portland who attends classes at the Sylvania Campus and works at the Veterans Resource Center at Southeast. DeLap told state legislators that any kind of advising can be tough to access these days, with only one small lab with limited advisor hours devoted to STEM program students. By providing more resources to advising for these students, it will help the state long term.
“STEM is one of those programs that is a big money maker for all of us,” DeLap said. “The more STEM students you have in the pipeline, everybody wins. The more students make in salaries once they graduate, the more tax revenue goes to the legislature.”
Eengah Gruetzke, also of Southeast Portland, is a low-income student who depends on financial aid to get by at PCC.
“With the price of college rising, financial aid doesn’t keep up,” she said. “They don’t raise the amount they give you depending on if tuition is raised. If I didn’t have financial aid, I wouldn’t be in school right now because I can’t afford it. It’s important for our students to be able to receive the money they need to attend school, because without it they won’t be here.”
Some of the data shared with legislators included how the college is raising the earning potential of its students after graduation, because of completion, which benefits local and state taxpayers. By providing access to educational resources, the state of Oregon is impacted through improved economic development, and local businesses benefit having a central resource for innovation and training.
It was also a day where PCC joined the strong chorus of the state’s other 16 community colleges in asking for an increase to the Community College Support Fund during this 2018 session. Any additional money would be used to mitigate tuition increases, as well as support advising and other services critical to students staying in school.
“We want to say thank you for your support because we know this is an uphill road,” said PCC Board Member Denise Frisbee to State Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer about asking for an increase to the state’s community college budget. “It’s why we’re so focused on the funding and the advising.”
Estimates are that 10 percent of the state’s 280,000 community college students are housing insecure, with even more being food insecure. The student population is getting more diverse every day — the growth being driven by first-generation college students and those working to leave poverty behind.
This additional funding would help ensure that students receive the support and resources they need. And community colleges are a solid investment: Recent research by a national labor analytics firm demonstrates that for every $1 invested in Oregon colleges at the state and local levels, taxpayers receive $3.30 in benefits back, and $8.40 return to the student over their career and to the local community.
“Our students are one sick kid and one flat tire away from dropping out of school,” said PCC President Mark Mitsui. “Any support is appreciated and allows us to keep college affordable for our students. There is a significant portion of our students that struggle with housing affordability, and any increase in tuition makes it untenable for them.”