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Oregon education leader says future is bright for Future Connect
Photos and Story by James Hill
Rudy Crew, Oregon’s first Chief Education Officer, likes what he sees from Portland Community College’s Future Connect Scholarship Program. So much so, he has big plans for the program’s model.
“This is not just a model for here,” Crew told Future Connect representatives on Friday, Jan. 25 at the Sylvania Campus. “We have to look at this as a model for the state.”
Appointed by Governor John Kitzhaber, Crew oversees the integrated public education system from pre-kindergarten through college and career readiness. In his new position, Crew said he is looking for these kinds of models and wants PCC representatives to present at the next Oregon Education Investment Board meeting. In addition, he wants to tell the Oregon Legislature that this model exists already and all they have to do is fund it and scale it.
“I so get this,” he said. “Every young person who is trying to find or go toward their dream is literally asking, ‘How do I get there?’ They need to find answers really easily. Things like this are just 100 percent the source of great affection for me because this is exactly what it took for me to go through school.”
Future Connect is a partnership between PCC, the City of Portland and the community. It targets low-income students that have shown promise for succeeding in college, but face barriers to success. Future Connect offers a scholarship based on need and one-on-one support from a college success coach. Donations to the PCC Foundation fund the program and the City of Portland doubles all gifts as part of a matching challenge of up to $380,000 each year. The college is looking to expand the model into Hillsboro, Beaverton and Newberg in addition to being in Multnomah County.
At the meeting, several students from Future Connect informed him on their experiences.
“Future Connect has helped me in so many ways,” said Raquel Barajas, a second-year student from Gresham, who decided to train to be a psychiatrist. “It has helped me have an amazing coach who inspired me and motivated me, who helped me push myself past my limits, helped me get through one of my toughest times, and have a better understanding of where and who I want to be.”
Antonio Ramirez found Future Connect through a Reynolds High School teacher, who showed him a pamphlet. He’s using his college experience to explore graphic design. “Because of coaches and manager like Josh Laurie (Future Connect manager), I’ve been able to get a lot of help from the college classes and learn what I need to do to transfer to a four-year university,” he added.
The first Future Connect cohort, which started in the fall of 2011, is comprised of 75 percent of students of color and 95 percent are the first in their families to go to college. The program has a 70 percent retention rate in its first year versus a 20-percent rate for low-income, first-generation PCC students who are not in the program.
“It’s not rocket science; it works.” said Director of PCC Alternative Programs Pam Blumenthal during the meeting. “It’s an innovative program that was really the brainchild of our president Dr. Pulliams and (former Portland) Mayor Sam Adams. We’ve created a really unique support program to help students access college who wouldn’t normally access college. People are really investing in this program and its success. It’s really engaging the whole community.”
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. Crew is looking at Future Connect as a model that could help achieve this reform.
“By virtue of having this sort of network, you really are able to be so much more powerful going through school,” he said. “Having a place that is stable where there’s good human contact, where people care about you, where they want to know where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going; that makes all the difference in the world.”