College is innovating the delivery method of training and boosting basic needs resources
Photos and Story by James Hill
To tackle the pressing issue of basic needs insecurity among its students, Portland Community College continues to roll out innovative initiatives, including a Mobile Welding Outreach & Skills Training Center and a substantial grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
According to a recent survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, a staggering 64% of PCC’s students reported experiencing basic needs insecurity. This crisis extends beyond Portland, with over 52% of students in Oregon’s community colleges facing housing insecurity during the pandemic. The survey highlighted the challenges students encounter in affording necessities like food, housing, utilities, childcare, and transportation while pursuing education.
Basic Needs Resources at PCC
- Everyone needs help sometimes and we’re here for you. We want you to be successful in reaching your education and career goals! If you are struggling to make ends meet and don’t know what resources are available, reach out. We can help you connect to resources on campus and in the community. You can also reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-722-6555.
In response to these challenges, PCC has made significant strides to break down barriers by bringing resources to students. The Mobile Welding Outreach & Skills Training Center, unveiled in partnership with Union Pacific in October, addresses transportation hurdles by bringing skilled trades training programs directly to students across the region.
“Welding training provides individuals with the opportunity to secure their future in high-demand jobs that pay a living wage,” said Dr. Adrien Bennings, PCC president. “Portland Community College’s welding program is at the forefront of this transformative journey.”
Union Pacific’s initial investment of $375,000 over three years made the mobile center possible. Funding from a Future Ready Oregon grant covered the cost of the tractor, and Vigor Industrial, a longstanding welding partner, provided additional support. The mobile center, equipped with six booths, has the capacity to serve up to six students simultaneously, offering focused training and Career Pathway Certificates.
PCC’s commitment to supporting students extends beyond skilled trades training. The college has instituted Digital Navigation Assistance where digital navigators, who are expert students, providing other students and community members with holistic, individualized support, focusing on affordable internet access, device acquisition, technical skills, and application support. Digital Navigators address barriers to accessing digital services by serving as peer guides who build relationships through repeated interactions – working side-by-side with the clients they serve, facilitating access to resources and offering one-on-one training.
“Digital Literacy is an essential, basic need on par with food and housing,” said Carey Larson, who runs the PCC Digital Literacy Program. “It’s often impossible to function as a citizen without basic digital skills and online access. Both are required to apply for benefits, file taxes, engage with health care services, take classes, and more. Many social services and community resources that were previously available in person are now primarily or exclusively accessed online, leading to increased barriers for those with underdeveloped digital skills.”
Recognizing the multifaceted challenges students face, the college has secured an $867,839 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program. The three-year grant focuses on student mental health, housing support, increased promotion of basic needs resources, and trauma-informed care training for staff and faculty.
The grant will fund a housing navigator to address those needs, a mental health provider for formal diagnoses and external services, and trauma-informed care training for staff and faculty.
“These grant funds could not have come sooner for our students and will improve awareness and access to basic needs support at the college, with the intentional focus on mental health and housing,” said Lauren Smith, executive dean of PCC’s Student Belonging & Wellbeing.
PCC’s comprehensive approach to student welfare includes addressing housing insecurity directly. The college, in collaboration with partners such as Portland State University, Mt. Hood Community College, College Housing Northwest, and New Avenues for Youth, launched the Affordable Rents for College Students (ARCS) pilot program in 2021. This initiative aims to provide subsidized housing for students at various apartment complexes in the Portland area, alleviating student homelessness and housing insecurity.
The first property developed under this initiative, the 72-unit Connery Place building, offers affordable rents to students at different income levels. In addition, PCC’s Opportunity Center at 42nd Avenue will be introducing affordable housing on the property in partnership with Home Forward, Portland’s housing authority. Student Javier Gomez is taking advantage of this resource.
“I was able to continue my college education (because of this),” Gomez said. “It’s wonderful when the community comes together and tackles these problems in the wider society.”
Full-time or part-time students can apply for apartments through the organization’s website, though applicants for the 20 lower-rent units need to be referred through partner colleges or other nonprofits.
PCC strives to ensure that students can focus on their education and future careers without the burden of basic needs insecurity. As it continues its mission to support students’ basic needs, the college reinforces its commitment to creating a sense of belonging and well-being for every student and staff with initiatives like the Panther Pantry, a free resource stocked with food, hygiene supplies, and more. This is guided by the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan to help the college community prepare for the future of higher education, emphasizing access to resources, intercultural competencies, and a supportive culture for all.
For more information on resources, visit PCC’s student life page.