One of the biggest, immediate state policy threats to the Southwest Oregon coastal economy is something that hardly ever gets a headline: we are facing significant, real cuts to community college funding, big enough to cause many students to put their educations on hold. Let me explain.
Southwestern Oregon Community College, like Oregon’s 16 other community colleges, is deeply embedded in the South Coast economy. SWOCC works closely with local businesses to make sure its certificate and degree programs are aligned with employers’ real-world needs. SWOCC collaborates with local high schools to offer dual-credit classes, which opens students’ minds to the possibility of post-high school education without having to leave home. And these dual-credit classes save local families thousands of dollars each year as their children earn college credits.
SWOCC’s health professions program, for example, is a critical feeder of highly skilled personnel to local medical facilities. Its nursing program is so important to our local health care system that it is hard to imagine Bay Area Hospital and the other hospitals in our region operating without SWOCC’s nursing graduates.
SWOCC’s relatively new forestry program provides pathways to both technical certificates to work in the field and an easy transfer opportunity to complete a four-year degree at Oregon State University, one of the world’s top forestry schools. Local, sustainable timber harvest on both county-owned and commercial lands, as well as the good, family wage jobs that it supports, depends on the continued success of these programs.
When voters in 2016 overwhelmingly approved Measure 98, which directs the state to bolster its investment in career and technical education (CTE), they gave a strong endorsement to critical CTE programs like those offered by SWOCC.
In that light, it is simply baffling that the state’s proposed budget includes actual cuts to community college funding, so large that average tuition likely would have to jump 17.5% just to stay even, let alone build upon the undisputable success of our college’s CTE programs.
Many community college students are working their way through school. Statewide, one in six students are single parents who need a college to meet their schedule demands while they work toward a career. Community colleges provide family support services to working parents who need the extra help to earn their degree.
Big tuition increases aren’t just something they can absorb, because they already are making trade-offs to make ends meet and pursue a better life through a community college education. As a product of Oregon's community college system, I know exactly what students are experiencing.
Our representatives in Salem – State Senator Arnie Roblan and State Rep. Caddy McKeown – are tremendous advocates for our region. My plea is that their colleagues at the State Capitol listen to them, and appropriate the funding necessary for community colleges to provide affordable access to education. Our local economy, our local businesses, and our local families depend on it.