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PCC President Highlights Bond Plans and Future Challenges in Sept. 13 Speech to PCC Faculty and Staf
Photos and Story by Mark Evertz
Good morning and welcome to our new academic year, 1999-00, our 38th year of service to the greater Portland community.
The theme of this year’s in-service is aptly summed up in the title of this program, "Turning the Page." It is always appropriate to talk about new beginnings, but this year in a special way as we end one century and look forward to a new millennium, we turn our eyes squarely on the future. What challenges will the years ahead bring to us, what transitions must we experience, and what changes must we make to be successful?
That community colleges will change is inevitable. In 1901, the very first community college was founded in Joliet, Illinois, a construct largely supported by the presidents of large, elite European-style universities. Its purpose was to serve as a breeding ground for those students who wanted to enter a university, but who were not judged ready. At that time, the universities very much wanted to develop as European universities focused on upper-division and graduate education. The junior college would serve as a screen and a preparation for serious students to the university. Despite these best laid plans, the universities maintained their first and second years, and the junior college took on a life of its own as it tapped into the enormous pent up demand for education prevalent even then in the fast growing and dynamic populations of this country. From a limited junior college in the suburbs of Chicago, the two-year institution has emerged in the latter part of this century as a national phenomenon, with an expanded mission, enrolling almost half the students who attend higher education in the United States. On the international stage, it serves also as a model for extending education to broader populations, for providing technical education and for strengthening economic development and social justice.
What will we look like in another hundred years? A safe bet is that we will not look the same. Maybe a better question, more realistic, is what can we expect in the next five or even 10 years? Our speaker today (noted cultural anthropologist Dr. Jennifer James) is a person who loves to talk about the future, or, more specifically, about the dynamics of change and the thinking skills necessary to deal with transitions. We look forward to her comments.
The future has also been on the minds of our board members. In a more immediate time frame, the PCC Board of Directors recently turned its attention to the priorities which must govern our activities in the next few years. After much deliberation and some gestation, the directors came to a consensus around several ideas which I think go to the core of our mission. Number one is service. There is in fact no other reason for our existence, and I appreciate our board reminding us of that. Service is measured in a number of ways, by the number of people served, by the students who achieve success, by the partnerships we strike within the community. It is also measured by our awareness of changing demographics and our willingness to do things differently to include all segments of our population and to include them in ways that make access to education a priority of this institution.
A second priority identified by our board of directors and inseparable from service is excellence or quality. Quite simply, we do not succeed, we do not achieve our mission if quality fails. And excellence or quality are not mysterious attributes that lie in the mind of the beholder.
Quality has to do with meeting expectations, whether these standards are derived locally, regionally or nationally. We have the task and the responsibility to assure quality and we will fulfill that responsibility to make sure our students receive the best education available today. You need to know that we have a board of directors who have made excellence a top priority. There are other priorities the board has identified and I will advert to those as we go along.
The priorities that we establish for ourselves and the goals we set are governed to some extent by the resources available to us. A great Te Deum was sung somewhere when our legislature ended its long stand; in other places a Dies Irae was more to be expected. The former was undoubtedly the chorus in the halls of higher education, i.e., the OUS. This system received an increase conservatively measured at around 22%; K-12 received a 10% increase and community colleges received a 6.5% increase. A request for enrollment growth money was turned down. Community colleges also saw an embarrassing meltdown from within as rural colleges used their legislators to cannibalize some of the appropriations for their own districts. All in all, however, if comparisons were omitted, community colleges did well in this session. Indeed if we could achieve this kind of increase in every session, we would do very well.
The fact is, however, that we have come off two excellent biennia for the state treasury in which community colleges received only subsistence increases. What might we expect when the state treasury is less endowed? And will that time come in 2001? We do not know. Such is the reality of state funding. In the spirit of this in-service we have to develop the mind-set to deal with the vagaries of public funding and to accept these vagaries as normal and customary.
Given the resources we expect to have then for the next two years, what is our budget outlook and what are our priorities? We usually consider our budget in two-year chunks given the biennial nature of the legislature. For this biennium, then, we are looking to have a balanced budget through the year 2001. That’s good news because I believe strongly that to do creative and effective work we need some sense of institutional stability, whether it is in the area of funding or relationships among key stakeholders.
Within our budget, our priorities in the general fund are focused specifically on instruction. We have added 10 new full time faculty positions and $691,000 for part-time sections. Another $496,000 has been set aside for lab assistants and technicians, and for supplies. Over $500,000 has been targeted for computing and audio visual equipment. Within the LRC, the district will invest $380,000 to upgrade computer equipment located in our library centers. I am especially pleased to announce that LRC will completely replace its existing computer based operating system with new technology that will facilitate access to and retrieval of information resources held by the LRC. In addition we will be funding faculty efforts in service learning, learning communities, grant writing, curriculum development and campus-based assessment. All of these allocations represent a net increase to our instructional budget.
There are other investments of course. Once again we will take from our ending-fund balance to augment our maintenance fund in an attempt to maintain a zero deferred maintenance schedule. Without any question, however, the investment is primarily in instruction, in service to our community with excellence. These are the major investments over this biennium. With any growth in enrollment we would hope to add new full-time positions in the second year of the biennium.
Our outlook for enrollment growth is positive. Over the last two years we have experienced growth of 5.5 percent 4.5 percent respectively. For a college our size, those are big numbers. In fact, during this past year we served almost 90,000 citizens in our district and this within a budget adjusted only for inflation. We have also in 1998-99 maintained a balanced budget in large part due to the increases in tuition revenue. And here is a terribly important link, more important than I would like to see, 90 percent of our college budget is dependent on enrollment either through payments from the state for full-time equivalent students or through tuition from students. No enrollment, no money. But that equation cannot be the focus of our thinking. What we have to think about is providing quality education in service to our community. The business part will follow. For the coming year, we hope to achieve growth at least at the two percent level, keeping pace with the general growth of population in our district.
On a macro level, the challenges we face are several. I would like to mention just a few.
How do we increase our service to the community given only an inflation adjusted budget? The opportunities for service out-strip our resources. Any underused capacity is diminishing rapidly. Additional sections, new programs, all require additional dollars.
How do we keep up with the demands of technology, both high tech and low tech? New computers need to be purchased and existing computers need to be upgraded. Operating equipment for all our technical programs needs periodically to be modified or replaced. It is important that all our programs have equipment that a student will reasonably find in the workplace or in comparable labs at the university level.
Beyond these needs, the college also desires to use web based technology to enhance instruction and to provide greater access to learning and services. So far, we are probably in the top 10 percent of colleges in this country in the use of computer-based technology, but where is it all going and at what cost and with what effect? Our board of directors is very attuned to the importance and challenge of technology and recognizes its pivotal importance for the future development of the college. That is why they have ranked technology as a top challenge and priority for the college.
How do we achieve comprehensiveness of programs at the Rock Creek and Cascade campuses? We have been inching our way toward this goal over the last 12 years, and technically we have arrived but not practically, at least not for students in those area. We have to increase the number of transfer courses on these campuses, and we have to assure ourselves that the distribution of technical programs throughout the three campuses represents the right program mix to maximize effectiveness and achieve efficiency. This year, then, I am proposing that we again look at our program mix and develop a new set of recommendations to make sure each campus has the best and most appropriate set of programs and that the citizens of this district continue to be well served. I will be working with the executive deans on this project in the very near future with a target goal of next April for an initial report. A review and evaluation of program mix is also a board priority for this year.
Finally, in my list of challenges, how do we educate successfully the ever changing diversity of students who enter our classrooms? Students with varied educational background, with different motivations, from different cultures, with different expectations? How do we meet their varied needs all in 11 weeks, for so many set hours a week? And in meeting their needs, how do we stay fresh, stay motivated and stay renewed? Time off, professional development, support services, a voice in change and policy development, a sense of ownership all are vital to our continued renewal and all come at a human and financial cost. The challenge of educating this diversity of students should not intimidate us. Diversity is what community colleges are about. We have to be honest enough to recognize the challenge, to say that it is hard and then get on with it. Sometimes the resources we need most of all are spiritual and emotional.
When we think about some of these challenges, we cannot help but simultaneously think of appropriate responses. One response that will address some but not all these challenges has to do with our proposed bond issue. As you know, we can put such an issue before the voters on a local referendum with all the proceeds to be used by the local community college and the tax burden to be shared by the local taxpayers. This is all outside our regular general fund, which is subject to state funding and a variety of rules affecting allocation. Indeed, it is our last local option if you will. We put this item before the voters last November and we lost not on Tuesday the day of the election but on Friday when the last absentee ballot was counted. Close but no brass ring.
The needs of the college captured in the bond issue remain the same; in fact they cry out with more urgency. When you think about the bond issue I would like you to think of the college’s priorities and its challenges. The bond issue is about service to the community, about building capacity to serve our citizens over the next 10 years. It is about quality and excellence, building a library at Rock Creek, science labs at Cascade, upgrading technology facilities throughout the district. It is about creating work space for our faculty and computer labs for our students, and it is also about getting our machinery out of the rain and off the lawns into some kind of storage facility. And finally it is about taking care of the facilities that citizens have given us without taking resources away from instruction.
I would ask you to visualize with me PCC in 10 years. PCC will then be serving as we do now 10 percent of our citizens, more than 120,000 people a year. We will have three complete comprehensive campuses and as many as six different work force and learning centers. We will enroll 20,000 students in distance learning courses and we will provide electronic access to all the services and functions that support learning. This vision is by any measure conservative and it speaks primarily to growth and capacity. How do we get there? A number of ways for sure but the bond measure is intended to put in place the basic building blocks that will then enable us to do all the hard work, the program development, the teaching, the partnerships , the communication and so on. Without the elements of the bond issue we are stuck, plateaued, stymied, and our mission will clearly suffer.
In its recent workshop, the board of directors expressed their support for going to the public with our bond issue in May of 2000, the date of the presidential primary. Our task will be two-fold, to win the election and to have more than 50 percent of the registered voters vote. We want you to vote, we want your students to vote, and we want you to understand what we are voting for. The bond issue is not about bricks and mortar; it is about education and about a matter of strategic importance for our citizens now and in the future.
I have said that passing the bond issue will only make it possible for us to do the hard work that remains. In many ways the bond issue is easy, that is, easy to conceptualize and put together, hard as heck of course to pass. And it is a product of linear thinking, stretching out what we currently have on the assumption that that is the way we will do education, at least for the next 10 years. There do not seem to be other options.
But within that macro view, within the broad outline of PCC and its campuses and centers, all kinds of things are and will be different. Our success will depend on how we react to these changes and to new and emerging realities and what we can learn from them.
A few examples. Phoenix University has a new competitor, the British Open University and because they retain that charming accent they may steal some thunder from Phoenix. The British Open University currently enrolls 250,000 students in England and is now looking for other markets in the US and in Australia. They have been quite successful as you know and unlike Phoenix are more accepted in our academic world.
I cite these two organizations as examples only of the market education presents to the entrepreneurial world. I do not have time to mention the proliferation of career schools and the direct corporate involvement of large businesses in specialized and even traditional education, or the collaboration now booming between prestigious universities and corporations. I will, however, mention specifically the Oregon University System and its incarnation as market-based institutions authorized and "incentivized" to compete at any and all levels primarily among themselves but necessarily with us. I am not complaining, just taking a moment to recognize the obvious. That, increasingly, is the world in which we live. How do we respond?
When land grant colleges came along in the 1860s, the existing university powers moaned loudly about the diminution of standards and the cheapening of the baccalaureate degree. When community or junior colleges came along, the universities and now the state colleges all saw the end of education as they then knew it. "The sky is falling." I would urge us not to fall into that trap. We have much to learn and much to teach anyone who enters our world. Our response has to be intelligent and intentional. We have above all to do an excellent job at what we are currently doing, but we must also be open to change and development. Let us think of it as fun.
A final example of big things happening right now in our world, high schools. You have all heard much about CIM and CAM and high school reform etc. Did you know also that there was a bill in our legislature that would have funded high school students to leave for college at the end of the10th grade? It was passed by the legislature but vetoed by the governor. With a republican governor, it would be law. This is not an Oregonian thing; it is talked about throughout the country. People want students to have more options. What impact might that have on us? It is more than likely that most of those students would go to the local community college. Even without that bill, they are going now. Did you know that PCC operates four different high school programs right now with more than 5,000 students enrolled? Did you know that 950 high school-age students are on our campuses completing their high school degree? And in the high schools themselves, we have 500 students enrolled in lower-division transfer, and 950 students enrolled in two-plus-two career courses.
Opportunities for working hand-in-hand with the high schools are expanding. How do we react to this partner out there? I know that some people see our worlds as very different; some even cringe at the prospect of any blurring that might take place. I see our partnership with high schools as one of the most exciting opportunities we have. We need first to continue to do what we are doing and expand incrementally. But mostly we have to recognize the interests we have in common and the mission we share to serve the local community. People have talked about K-16 and K-14 as a seamless system for years. Indeed most community colleges in this country, including PCC, came right out of the high school setting.
What is different now is that we have the opportunity to do more in an integrated way without waiting for students to proceed lockstep through each organization.
We could not talk about the future, of course, without at some point adverting to the ubiquitous Y2K problem. Let me join the army of experts out there by saying I do not know what will happen. I can say what we have done at PCC.
We have been working on those things we have control over for the past two years. I am satisfied that we have done a very thorough job of checking our own resources and verifying with our vendors that we are Y2K compliant. We have left no stone unturned. This does not mean that we will sail into the year 2000 without experiencing some turbulence. We are still dependent on utilities, banks, and other service contractors. We will continue to keep our Y2K committee in operation, and we stand ready to take your suggestions and to answer your questions. Please be assured that we have done everything possible on our end to make the transition smooth.
In addition to solving our Y2K computer challenge, we have also planned a series of activities to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000. The initial calendar is available today. I thank everyone who has been involved so far in helping us with the events. It is not too late to add to this calendar. It will be a fluid document. I encourage you to do so; the year is long. Again our purpose in celebrating our passage to the year 2000, is to reflect on our achievements and progress and to renew our commitment to education and to our community college mission. I hope you and your students will join in the celebration.
We have much to celebrate. In just one week, 38,000 students will descend upon Portland Community College. We are privileged to be in a position to serve them. They will come to us with their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Indeed they will be here because they are hopeful people, intent on a new beginning and the promise of personal renewal.
We have talked and will talk much about the future in this inservice. In a special way that is what education is about, touching the future. You all remember Sharon Crista Corrigan McAuliffe, the school teacher-astronaut who died tragically in the Challenger explosion. When asked why she as a teacher would be interested in space flight, she responded, "Don’t you understand? I am a teacher. Every day, through my students, I touch the future. And space exploration is all about the future." At Portland Community College, we build futures for our students, for our communities and for this nation.
That is our mission. Because we join hands with our students and with each other in this enterprise, we all become much more than we could ever be individually. At this moment it is hard to think of a more worthy and fulfilling calling in life.
To make things work around here we need the contributions of every person on the faculty and on the staff. Each of you is very important. I trust that you will take excellent care of our students. I exhort all of you to take excellent care of each other. We all need that kind of support to do our best work.
I am delighted to have all of you back together. I wish you well. Have a great year.