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Hass, Gallegos back measures to help more students afford college

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Gov. John Kitzhaber smiles after signing House Bill 4116 as students in Portland Community College's Future Connect Program stand behind him at the Rock Creek campus on Tuesday.Before signing legislative bills on Tuesday afternoon authorizing strategic funding for community colleges and higher education, Gov. John Kitzhaber made clear his administration’s commitment to bringing higher education opportunities to the widest pool of students possible.

“The education agenda we’ve been pursuing over the last three years is based on the belief the education doesn’t start in the first grade, and it doesn’t end in the 12th grade,” he said at the Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus Event Center. “An effective program of early learning and early childhood development is foundational for success in school, and a post-secondary education or training experience is foundational to economic, civic and social success.”

Visiting campus for a joint meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Education Investment Board, Kitzhaber signed House Bill 4116, which provides $750,000 in strategic, “Aspirations to College” investment to Oregon community colleges. He also applied his executive pen to Senate Bill 1524, which directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to explore the concept of free community college tuition for all Oregon high school graduates.

Joining the governor during the short program were state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1524; Rep. Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro, chief sponsor of House Bill 4116; and PCC President Jeremy Brown.

PCC Rock Creek was chosen for the signing because of its Future Connect Program, which provides a working state model to provide scholarships and college success services to low-income and first-generation college students.

Hatched in 2011 as a PCC collaboration with Multnomah County, the recently expanded program targets promising recent high school graduates from low-income families in the Beaverton and Hillsboro areas who face financial, social or other barriers. The program provides full two-year PCC scholarships to 100 students, including two years of personalized coaching, individualized academic advising as well as access to tutoring, internships and cohort support.

The legislation signed on Tuesday furthers the Kitzhaber-endorsed “40-40-20” goal. Based on Senate Bill 253 the Legislature passed in 2011, the long-term initiative calls for 40 percent of Oregon adults to hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree, 40 percent to earn an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate, and all adults in the state to hold a high school diploma, or its equivalent, by 2025.

Brown, now eight months into his new position as PCC president, said the legislation and Kitzhaber’s endorsement go a long way toward validating the concept of higher education for all. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland Community College President Jeremy Brown talks about new legislation that will boost students' access to higher education.

“It means a lot that he’s showing a keen interest in higher education around the state,” Brown said immediately after the ceremony. “He’s clearly supportive. We have a lot of students who we hope will see the positive effects of the bills’ outcomes.”

Oregon, Brown noted, is well positioned to serve as a model for other programs to expand higher education access.

“It’s really exciting that we’re getting national attention for being so creative in addressing ideas of access and affordability,” he said.

Since Future Connect launched in 2011, more than 70 percent of students have gone on to their second year of college. Of the success stories, 92 percent of students come from low-income families, 62 are students of color and 83 percent are first-generation college students.

Gallegos praised the innovations the bills and the 40-40-20 goals are putting into practice.

“One reason it’s exciting for me is the example we set by creating public-private partnerships,” he said. “It’s a great example of how we can proceed in the future, where we’re not relying (strictly) on state dollars.”

Recent legislative developments mark what Gallegos hopes is just the beginning of correcting a period in which higher education was not a concerted statewide priority.

“We’ve disinvested in higher education and not supported it,” he said. “This is a creative beginning, but we’ve got so much to do yet.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Gov. John Kitzhaber shakes hands with Portland Community College board member Jim Harper as Kali Thorne Ladd looks on. Kitzhaber stopped by the Rock Creek campus on Tuesday to sign to bills boosting higher education initiatives.

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