Believe it or not but Portland Community College is entering its sixth decade of serving the community. In year number 51, the college has plenty to trumpet, but there are also challenges.
PCC District President Preston Pulliams will be retiring next July, but during the months ahead he will be very active, meeting with policy-makers, business leaders, donors, faculty and staff leaders and others – in service to the college and to students. He recently chatted about what excites him for 2012-13 and what obstacles lay ahead. The following story is snippet of what issues he and PCC staff and faculty will be working on.
“As I look forward to the coming year, I’m reminded of how fortunate we are to be working at a place where every day we come to the college knowing we’re making a real difference in people’s lives,” Pulliams said.
Address Financial Challenges
While enrollment has increased 44 percent during the past five years, the funding PCC gets from the state has declined by 20 percent. According to President Pulliams, PCC is now spending more than it takes in, due to declining state funding, the college’s overall spending levels, and its increasing obligations to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System.
“In February, a new legislative session begins, and I will work diligently to increase the Community College Support Fund,” Pulliams said. “We will be actively engaging our legislators, bringing them to our campuses this fall to underscore the critical role PCC plays in economic development and preparing our citizens for leadership and careers in the changing world.”
As this happens, he said PCC has to plan that its revenues will not increase significantly in the upcoming biennium (2013-15). Therefore, Pulliams has asked his Cabinet to identify $5.5 million in savings from the current year’s budget, to reduce the deficit and better position the college for the budget challenges ahead. This spending reduction represents about three percent of the general fund. Their recommendations will be shared with the Budget and Planning Advisory Committee and the broader college community in the coming weeks. As the year progresses, these organizations will have further discussions about how to align the 2013-15 budget with PCC’s resources, and the college is conducting “Budget 101” forums throughout the district to provide additional information about the financial outlook.
“PCC has weathered the state’s recent funding difficulties better than most Oregon community colleges and, despite the financial challenges, I am confident that we will continue to serve our students with the dedication and creativity our faculty and staff have shown time and time again in my years at PCC,” added Pulliams.
Increase Student Success
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has set high goals to increase educational attainment in Oregon. The goal is to link pre-school, K-12, community colleges and universities in a unified effort to increase student completion and success. With nearly 95,000 students, no other educational institution in Oregon provides more educational access to more people than PCC, said Pulliams.
“PCC must be a key player,” Pulliams said. “Increasing our student retention and completion rates must be a high priority for the college. To that end we’ve established a new Completion Investment Council – which will have representation from students, staff and faculty across the college – to guide and coordinate our efforts, and to ensure we are increasing completion rates while maintaining high-quality education.”
Oregon’s education reform does present challenges and uncertainty, he said. For example, new funding formulas may mean that colleges receive some of the state funding based on whether students complete a degree, not whether they are enrolled in classes with PCC.
“Many students come to community college academically unprepared for college and it takes time for them to progress,” stated Pulliams. “We must not achieve greater success rates by limiting their access to college. At the same time, we must work actively with our K-12 colleagues to increase the numbers of their graduates who come to us prepared for college-level work.”
PCC is participating actively in the many new state educational committees that have been established to guide the reform effort. Pulliams is meeting with legislators, new Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew, members of the Oregon Education Investment Board and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to share with them about what the college is already doing to improve student success. PCC has implemented both systematic changes that impact tens of thousands of students and targeted programs that provide intense support to students with particular needs who are best served in smaller groups.
In addition, PCC has developed new programs – like Future Connect – and has expanded existing ones – like ROOTS, PAVTEC Education Consortium, Beaverton Early College High School and Middle College – that are specifically geared to increasing student success and strengthening the pathways from high school to college. The Oregonian recently highlighted the large numbers of students PCC prepares to transfer successfully to four-year colleges.
Pulliams said the college has also made strides in improving its internal processes to make it easier for students to succeed by reorganizing the Financial Aid office and helping students manage the complexities of financing their education. The new Deletion for Non-Payment policy has helped ensure that students come to class with their college financing in order. And the online Grad Plan tool helps students stay on track to meet their degree requirements. As a result of these and many other efforts, PCC awarded 16 percent more degrees and certificates last year than it did the previous year – a record high – and 92 percent above 2007-08 levels.
Millions for Opportunities
The role of philanthropy has never been more important at PCC. During the past five years, the PCC Foundation has raised more than $11.5 million in contributions. These funds have enabled the Foundation to quadruple the scholarship funds it awards each year, provide student support, enhance faculty innovation, and offer cultural programming. And yet, the fundraising is still only meeting a fraction of student need across the district. Hundreds of eligible applicants are denied scholarships each year for lack of scholarship funds.
“My vision is that one day everyone will have the opportunity to go to college, regardless of their finances,” Pulliams said. “Before I leave PCC I want to be sure I have raised the next million dollars for our students, in particular, the first-generation college students who deeply need financial assistance and student support to attend PCC and complete their degrees. These students face challenges much like I did as a young Michigan community college student. I’m calling this my ‘Opportunity Campaign.’ Over the next few months, you’ll be hearing about how you can join me in making this goal a reality during my final year at PCC. Together we can help many more students succeed.”
This fall, the PCC Bond Program is beginning well-planned construction where contractors start to bring physical form to what’s on paper. Work at the Sylvania and Rock Creek campuses has already begun, and there soon will be construction underway at the Cascade Campus and Southeast Center as well.
“These are exciting times all around the college and an important reminder of both the great confidence our community has in us and the great responsibility we have to use the public’s money wisely,” Pulliams said. “Inconveniences are inevitable and I truly appreciate everyone working hard to continue serving our students through it all.”
Hire a Diverse Workforce
PCC is the most diverse institution of higher education in the state. As a result, PCC has a responsibility to be a leader in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce – especially faculty – who mirror the diversity of students.
“This is critical to our work to increase student retention and success, and I will continue to press for new and expanded initiatives to address this goal, including strengthening the Faculty Diversity Internship Program to be a real pathway to employment at the college for even more faculty of color,” Pulliams said.
“These issues and the daily work of serving and teaching our students will certainly keep us engaged for the coming year,” he added.