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PCC makes its case to the state legislature

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The Sylvania Campus was the site for the Community College Budget Informational Hearing of the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee last month.

The state legislators heard testimony from Christine Chairsell (Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs), Jim Harper (Board Member), Jeff Van Raden (Foundation Board Member) and many students and faculty concerning funding levels for the state’s community colleges. The co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee released a new budget for the 2007-09 biennium which cuts funding for Oregon’s community colleges well below the level that had been recommended by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Michael Dembrow, composition and literature instructor, summarized the effects of the new funding level if it should remain as is.

“The ability of us to provide a quality education has been compromised,” Dembrow said.

The community college requested funding level is $529 million for the biennium. Gov. Kulongoski’s budget was $483 million, and the co-chairs have cut that to $458 million, $71 million below what the colleges need to build enrollment and restore educational programs. Harper added that the mission of the college would be helped if legislators restored the original number that community colleges need – $529 million.

“In recent years, community colleges struggled with affordability and accessibility,” said PCC Board Member Jim Harper to the legislators. “An increase on community college funding will make a big difference.”

Also, on Tuesday, April 10, it was PCC’s day at the Capitol Building where PCC District President Preston Pulliams, board members Jaime Lim and Harper, along with administrators, faculty and students, met with key representatives within the district. The college was recognized on the floors of the House and Senate as well. The day was an opportunity for PCC to get the word out on its story and why funding from the state is critical.

At the Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, Jeff Van Raden, third-generation owner of Columbia Industries, testified that half of his welders come from the PCC welding program at the Rock Creek Campus. He says the company is constructing a new building and will need to hire 20 more welders to staff it for the projected increase in business. Without increased funding to expand the welding program, Van Raden said the lack of available welders would crimp his business.

“PCC has helped us,” he said. “This is a very critical institution for us. You just don’t go out and grab 20 welders. That doesn’t work. This is an opportunity for the state to recognize the community college’s work.”

Debra Lynn Porta is a sociology major with 3.78 GPA. Porta, 40, has served in student government as a legislative affairs director, and made the President and National Dean’s lists. Porta, after sustaining injuries that forced her out of the restaurant business, returned to school at the age of 37. Her story of perseverance helped to drive the point home for the legislators.

“Community college administrators are being forced to make tough decisions,” she said. “And those cuts to the system hurt students.”

Michael Morrow, coordinator for Child Care Services, told the subcommittee that in 2000-01 just over 3,000 PCC students borrowed $9.9 million in financial aid, 47 percent of the total financial aid package, which also includes grants and work-study funding. He also said that in 2005-06 more than 7,000 PCC students had to borrow over $31 million, which was 61 percent of their total financial aid package.

“So in five years student borrowing at PCC has more than tripled, and it is up again this year, while our student population has remained fairly flat,” Morrow said. “Our students find it increasingly difficult, financially, to be here.”

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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