Portland Community College welcomed Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber to its Rock Creek Campus on March 11 where he signed two important education bills.
Signed ahead of a joint meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Education Investment Board, Gov. Kitzhaber put pen to paper to put House Bill 4116 (the “Aspirations to College” bill) and Senate Bill 1524 (or known as the “Study of Free Community College”) into law. Dozens of students in the PCC Foundation’s Future Connect Program gathered around the Governor to watch him sign the bills in front of gathered media and legislators. He said the signings were part of the state reaching its “40-40-20” goals to ensure access for people to post-secondary education and attain degrees.
“Both of these bills underscore the importance of education to career pathways for young people,” said Gov. Kitzhaber. “And of course education is key to reducing the achievement gap, moving people out of poverty and up the income scale. I think both of these bills reflect our values as Oregonians and I think many Oregonians will reap the benefits of these bills in the years ahead.”
The State Legislature passed House Bill 4116 the prior week and will provide $750,000 in strategic investment to community colleges across Oregon. PCC’s Future Connect Program, offered in partnership with the cities of Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro, serves as the model for “Aspirations to College.” Future Connect works with area high schools to provide scholarships and college success services to low-income and first-generation college students.
“We are very proud of our Future Connect Program at PCC,” said College President Jeremy Brown. “With its career counseling, academic advising, internships and other career development opportunities it’s a remarkable case study for Oregon’s educational attainment and economic development strategy.”
The signing on SB 1524 begins a study as to whether it’s feasible to extend two years of free community college education to students that complete high school. Within that two-year time period, students could obtain an associate’s degree, a certificate of learning, or earn credits that can transfer towards a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. If the HECC finds the concept doable, the commission will propose criteria to the Oregon Legislature.
“The new reality is that we are in a global economy and Oregon is one of the first states to embrace this,” said State Sen. Mark Hass, the bill’s sponsor. “And we’re doing it smartly by taking on this technical study to look at how we should set this up and, hopefully, how we will implement this when the legislature meets next year. It is the least we can do to provide opportunities for the sons and daughters of our state.”
Currently, Oregon community college students pay an average of nearly $4,000 per year in tuition and fees. That price tag serves as a barrier for students who cannot afford higher education. For those who do enroll in school, many end up with student loan debt.
“Future Connect gave me the opportunity to be more than what I envisioned,” said PCC student Sara Agoot, who plans to be a doctor. “I’m getting closer to my dreams because of Future Connect.”