Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici just can’t stay away from Portland Community College’s Willow Creek Center.
On Friday, July 12, Bonamici unveiled legislation at the Washington County center during a roundtable discussion with students and post-secondary education leaders. Those in attendance included 20 representatives from PCC, Portland State University, Oregon State University, Pacific University, Oregon Student Association, The Alliance, and the University of Oregon.
The discussion revolved around her Opportunities for Success Act (HR 2659), which would help make unpaid internships more accessible to low-income students. This legislation is part of Bonamici’s new College to Jobs Agenda, which aims to reduce unemployment and underemployment among recent college graduates.
“Students with internship experience are often more likely to find a job after college than those without it,” said Bonamici. “Unfortunately, many internships are unpaid. The costs of foregoing income and possible relocation can make it impossible for low-income students to accept these opportunities. Our efforts around higher education should recognize the importance and the long-term benefits of leveling the playing field for low-income students.”
Bonamici is no stranger to PCC or community colleges. Last October, Bonamici gathered dozens of leaders from the healthcare industry, local government and education realm for a roundtable discussion at Willow Creek about workforce training issues in the implementation of health information technology. Last November, Bonamici was selected for the 2012 Council of Resource Development (CRD) Congressional Award, which recognizes contributions to community college education and workforce training.
In her latest roundtable, Bonamici listened to input about her Opportunities for Success Act, which would establish grants of up to $5,000 each for Pell Grant-eligible students who accept a full-time internship, and $2,500 for students who accept a part-time internship. Grants would be administered by the financial aid departments of qualifying educational institutions.
A major point made was the lack of career counseling staff and offices at colleges to assist students in finding internships. Attendees told Bonamici that there aren’t enough career guidance staff at colleges to assist with the need and usually these departments are the first to be cut in times of budget crisis.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of college graduates are employed in positions that do not require a college degree. In a recent survey about one in three graduates stated that college did not prepare them well for the world of work. Graduates who gained real work experience like completing an internship, however, find themselves better prepared for the workplace.
In 2011, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers offered full-time positions to 61.2 percent of their interns with an acceptance rate of 86.5 percent. In addition, 46 percent of students who had completed an internship were offered jobs, compared with 31 percent of students who did not complete an internship. And more than 76 percent of employers rank relevant experience as the most important quality when hiring.
Bonamici’s broader “College to Jobs Agenda,” includes efforts to reduce the debt burden students face after college and establish links between post-secondary institutions and the workforce. In March, she reintroduced the Workforce Infrastructure for Skilled Employees (WISE) Investment Act to improve communication between workforce investment boards, community colleges, community-based organizations, apprenticeship training programs, and other vocational institutions.
Interested in what’s going on in Salem and Washington D.C. concerning PCC and community colleges? Then read PCC’s Capitol Beat blog.