Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Students, supporters tout the impact of PCC at annual ‘Day at the Capitol’

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It may have been a rainy and gloomy day in Salem, but the powerful stories of PCC students shined right through the weather.

Last month, the college hosted its fifth annual “Day at the Capitol.” Nearly 200 students, faculty and staff converged on the state capitol to meet with their representatives and senators and highlight the vital role that PCC and the state’s other 16 community colleges play. The key message was to urge legislators to support full funding for Oregon’s community colleges.

The opportunity to talk directly to elected leaders is important as PCC gets nearly 40 percent of its funding from the state. For the 2017-19 biennium, the college faces a budget deficit of nearly $12 million after the governor’s recommendation to keep funding at $550 million – the same amount allocated in the 2015-17 biennium for Oregon’s community colleges. But this level of funding isn’t really “flat” as it doesn’t account for inflation, increases in salary and health care costs, and other financial responsibilities. Because of this, it’s a funding reduction and isn’t enough to maintain current services.

True funding for community colleges would be $634 million and if the $550 million proposal remains it will lead to tuition increases. But if legislators fund community colleges at the higher figure it would mean they are investing in the futures of students. To get the message across of the impact of the funding proposal, the theme of the day was “The Student Story.

The opportunity to talk directly to elected leaders is important as PCC gets nearly 40 percent of its funding from the state.

The opportunity to talk directly to elected leaders is important as PCC gets nearly 40 percent of its funding from the state.

First-year student Joann Rosevear is in PCC’s Transitions Program, which helps single parents, displaced homemakers, and others who are between stages in their lives, enter college. Growing up in a predominantly white community outside of Eugene, Rosevear was often told she wasn’t college material. After a brief stint at PCC, she worked in the world of social services and support programming, including for Portland Public Schools where she encouraged at-risk youth to go to school.

“For thirty years, I’ve been talking to kids about the importance of getting an education – including my own children,” she said. “I just had never done it myself.”

Rosevear found herself without a job after an injury. It was then she discovered she couldn’t get rehired without a college degree – she was too experienced for entry-level jobs, but she didn’t have a college degree to earn a better one. Her children encouraged her to enroll again at PCC, and her daughter walked Rosevear to the advising office to get started.

“I am proud to tell you today that I am succeeding in ways that I never thought possible,” Rosevear said. “This term, I am getting A’s in my classes, and I am proud to serve as a legislative intern in Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward’s office. I am going to make it.

“I know so many people my age who have similar stories to me,” she continued. “People who have been injured or sick; people who need affordable, open access to training and education to be able to get back to work.”

President Mark Mitsui encourages the PCC contingent just before meeting with legislators.

President Mark Mitsui encourages the PCC contingent just before meeting with legislators.

Another student, Michael William-Roberts, met with the office staff of Rep. Mitch Greenlick (District 33 – Northwest Portland). William-Roberts, a first-generation college student, explained that he and his mother share an apartment and are facing financial challenges that may force him to drop out of school. He is studying environmental sciences and wants to ultimately transfer to Oregon State University to major in environmental policy. He has work experience as a waiter as well as an overseas English teacher, but wants to use his technical skills in a new career.

“We’re currently struggling to pay rent,” he said. “I’m using my financial aid loans for that purpose because I haven’t been able to find a job. I’m concerned that if tuition goes up there’s less money for rent. It’s a pretty tight budget right now, and if I don’t figure out my financial aid situation soon I’ll probably get evicted in June. There’s a lot of pressure, and it certainly wouldn’t help to have to pay more tuition.”

Sara Alvarez Olvera met with State Rep. Ron Noble (District 24 – Yamhill County). The first-generation student praised PCC for the support she has received, but she currently works two jobs and has had to put school on hold in order to earn enough money for living expenses.

“PCC has really helped me by opening so many doors,” said Olvera. “It’s changed my life dramatically. I have two younger sisters and I want to show them that any obstacle you face can be overcome, and it shouldn’t be money that’s stopping you.”

What Key Leaders Said About ‘Day at the Capitol’

“I want to fully fund community colleges and higher education. To me it’s personal. My sister went to a community college, but because of poverty she had to drop out. If we had more support services and investment for our public education system to make sure it has the wrap around services it needs, we would all succeed.” – State Rep. Diego Hernandez (District 47 – Northeast Portland).

“As a board member, I am frequently called upon to help tell the PCC story. I let folks know about PCC’s exceptional people, its exceptional programing and about our special challenges and opportunities. But I must tell you what I say will never be as powerful as what you say. Legislators remember the voices of students, of faculty and community members. Your personal stories of hope, challenges and achievements help them understand PCC’s role in the community as nothing else can. You are amplifying the voices of all who came to Salem before you and for all who will follow.” – PCC Board Director Denise Frisbee.

“I was energized by the chance to participate. To me, this kind of civic engagement is a great experience for our faculty, staff and students, and it’s a privilege to help lead PCC’s large delegation.” – Sylvania Campus President Lisa Avery.

“What makes the day so powerful is seeing our students gain voice and political agency by sharing their stories and perspectives with their state representatives in Salem. It’s about advocacy, empowerment, school spirit and community.” – Southeast Campus President Jessica Howard.

  • The opportunity to talk directly to elected leaders is important as PCC gets nearly 40 percent of its funding from the state.
  • President Mark Mitsui encourages the PCC contingent just before meeting with legislators.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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