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PCC awarded $2.24 million to give migrant workers path to college

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Portland Community College scored a five-year, $2.24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education to start the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) on its Rock Creek Campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road.

Rock Creek Dean of Student Development Narce Rodriguez (left) and New Directions Coordinator Alicia Gonzalez know how beneficial HEP can be for migrant workers.

HEP, a sister program of College Assistance for Migrants Program, will assist migrant and seasonal farm workers and members of their immediate family obtain a GED, gain employment, enter post secondary education or training, or join the military. One hundred students per year will be served by this grant. PCC is hiring staff for the program and the goal will be to start taking in students for winter term. The focus will be on Washington County, but students could come from Yamhill County, Clackamas and Hood River, where the college’s CAMP service sees interest.

“Students could theoretically complete their GED through HEP and then join the CAMP program for their first year at the college,” said Karen Sanders, Division Dean of Social Science, Health Education, PE and College Preparation at Rock Creek. “In both programs, the students receive a large amount of extra support – both financial and academic – to help them be successful. Oregon has a very high percentage of migrant workers – particularly in Washington County – and there are no HEP programs in the area. There is a need for this program in our area and I have been contacted by many community agencies in Washington County that are absolutely thrilled that they will be able to refer students to this program.”

It’s another big win for PCC in federal grant funding. In the last six months PCC has earned more than $13.5 million in money to help foster access and bolster education programs like this one. (Read the bottom of story for more grants).

The HEP program is needed because Oregon has the fifth-largest migrant and seasonal farm worker population in the country and 25 percent live in the Northwestern part of the state. Latino student enrollment has increased by 20 percent compared to last year at PCC.

“The nice thing about HEP is that there is no upper age limit,” Sanders added. “So if there are individuals or adults out there who never finished high school and would like to do so, they can enroll in this program and continue their education.”

Rodriguez (left) oversees the college's CAMP program which is a sister initiative of HEP and Gonzalez was a HEP graduate 20 years ago at the University of Oregon.

Benefits to students include free GED classes and testing fees, books, supplies, bus passes and cafeteria meals, plus reduced child care. Individualized tutoring, GED classes in Spanish, advising and required electives are also part of the program. Potential students will go through a rigorous application process, which includes verification of migrant status, orientation, testing and personal interviews. Program participants will take 12 credit hours of GED classes as well as an elective – often English as a Second Language or College Survival. Graduates of the HEP program receive free PCC tuition, up to 12 credits, that must be used within a year. Students can transition to the CAMP program to receive mentorship through their first year of college and become mentors themselves.

Narce Rodriguez, Rock Creek Campus Dean of Student Development, had two brothers who went through the program and really helped them because of an environment of inclusion. Rodriguez oversees PCC’s College Assistance for Migrants Program and led the same program at Oregon State University before coming to Portland. CAMP works closely with the other HEP programs in the state and she knows first hand the difference it makes.

“Based on the great work by Grants Development Director Miriam Friedman and the team did at the grants office, we were able to document and find the data that this program is absolutely needed within the state of Oregon and the Willamette Valley,” Rodriguez said. “We have a waiting list for people from this community who want their GED and it’s a matter opportunity for them to have access to education via PCC. Plus, this helps meets the goal of our board of directors to foster partnerships with community to meet access to all and foster diversity within the campus and college as a whole.”

There are only three other existing programs in Oregon serving the seasonal worker population – University of Oregon, and Treasure Valley and Chemeketa community colleges. A graduate of the Oregon program is Rock Creek New Directions coordinator Alicia Gonzalez. New Directions is a tuition-free, four-credit class designed to assist women in making decisions about their future and provide them with college preparedness and career readiness services.

“I worked in a cannery back then,” Gonzalez said of her life 20 years ago. “My uncles heard about HEP at a community center – Centro Cultural. I can tell you now if it weren’t for the program I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t have an opportunity to get an education. When I came from Mexico I never saw myself going to school. HEP opened the doors for me to get to college.”
Gonzalez would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Portland State University and a master’s degree in school counseling from Lewis & Clark College.

“I see this as an opportunity for many people,” Gonzalez added. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for them. I see PCC giving opportunities to students to people just like me because otherwise they wouldn’t have that opportunity. If people want to go to school they can now.”

For program information, call (503) 614-7085.

Other PCC grants include:

  • A U.S. Department of Education Title III – Strengthening Institutions Program grant for $1,988,107. This five-year grant is designed to improve student success district-wide by reducing institutional barriers to access and management of education-related finances.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration awarded a Congressionally directed grant of $200,000 to the Automotive Service Technology Department at the Sylvania Campus. It will add hybrid fuel technology curriculum to the Automotive program, training a minimum of 60 students a year.
  • Life by Design NW – a PCC program – was awarded $505,000 from The Atlantic Philanthropies to help older residents prepare for encore careers after retirement.

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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