Christopher Villa tells Washington County Forum that tuition increases and spending cuts cannot substitute if college is to help students transfer to four-year institutions or develop career skills.

PMG PHOTO BY PETER WONG - Christopher Villa, president of Portland Community College/Rock Creek, speaks Monday, April 22, at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum luncheon.The new president of Portland Community College/Rock Creek says more state aid is needed if PCC's four campuses are to continue to advance students to four-year colleges and technical careers.

The tentative 2019-21 budget for state support of Oregon's 17 community colleges is $590 million, which Christopher Villa said is far short of the $647 million the colleges seek to maintain current services or the $787 million the colleges want for programs to ensure student success and expand career and technical education.

"We totally support the work our legislators are doing for K-12 schools," Villa said Monday, April 22, at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum. "We are trying to get in on that revenue package to get some of that funding to support our students."

State lawmakers are working on how to add $1 billion to $2 billion annually — which will require new money — to the $9 billion proposed in aid to public schools in the two-year budget.

Without additional state aid, Villa said, the PCC board has already approved a tuition increase from $104 to $111 per credit unit for the 2019-20 academic year, and is likely to consider a similar increase next year. The increases are on top of 3% spending reductions that will result in some layoffs.

"If you multiply those credits by 12, it adds up," Villa said. "I am concerned about those increased costs."

Villa came to PCC Rock Creek last year from Mission College, part of the Los Angeles community college system, and succeeded the retiring Sandra Fowler-Hill. California's tuition rate for community colleges is $46 per unit.

Villa's father emigrated from Sonora state in Mexico a century ago, and was a World War II Army veteran with service in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Although aid is available, Villa said students are discouraged from taking out large loans for community colleges.

With 71,000 students in the 2018-19 academic year, 18,000 of them at the Rock Creek campus that serves Washington County, Portland Community College is the largest higher education institution in Oregon. Rock Creek is one of four main campuses, and it also oversees centers at Willow Creek and Hillsboro.

Though two-thirds of Rock Creek students plan to transfer to four-year institutions — Portland State University is their preeminent destination — Villa said a growing number of them are enrolled in 14 career and technical education programs at Rock Creek.

"More young people and adults and looking for new training," he said. "It is becoming prevalent that people in our community are realizing they do not need a bachelor's degree to get a good-paying job."

Such programs require a year or two of advanced training beyond high school.

At the same time, Villa said, community colleges hope to do more to increase completion rates, particularly among African Americans and first-generation students.

"We know we need to close up those disparities," he said.

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Link to video of Christopher Villa's talk at the April 22 Washington County Public Affairs Forum:

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