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Portland Community College, Bank of America support the Future Connect program.

When we peel back the layers on post-secondary education, some distinct challenges and opportunities emerge. Out of 36 states studied for community college retention rates, Oregon was ranked 32nd in a recent national study. These individual rates were even lower for communities of color. Mark MItsui

Studies and our own experience shows us that community college students have to work more and study less due to their financial situations. Many students struggle with food and housing insecurity, and it is impossible to graduate on time if you can only afford to take six credits per quarter when 90 credits are needed to complete a degree.

The good news is that through strategic partnerships, Portland Community College is achieving dramatically improved graduation outcomes for these students. Roger Hinshaw

Launched in 2011, PCC's Future Connect provides scholarships and support programs for low-income, first-generation students from 60 area high schools and community-based organization, thanks in part to assistance from local city partners in Multnomah, Washington and Columbia counties. Wrap-around services include advising, mentoring, career coaching and leadership opportunities, which help to keep students engaged and enrolled.

The results have a powerful impact: Recently, an independent review of Future Connect by Education Northwest substantiates how the program improves first-year grade-point averages and credits earned, improves persistence to the second year of college, and increases three-year completion and transfer rates.

Future Connect students are more likely to return to the following fall term by more than 14 percent than the average student, regardless of income and background. Fall-to-fall return rates for Future Connect students are 80 percent compared to the 66 percent for the general student body at PCC. The program's students also are twice as likely to finish college as similar students who do not receive guidance, mentoring or financial assistance.

Over the past eight years, Bank of America has donated more than $125,000 to support the growth of PCC and its Future Connect and Career Pathways programs. This investment and public private partnership has helped hundreds of students at PCC. But even more needs to be done.

Portland Community College and Bank of America remain dedicated to equipping youth with the tools they need to build their futures, with a focus on connecting them to employment and education tracks.

If we want our region to enjoy sustainable economic growth, we have to focus on creating growth for all participants in the education spectrum, because education is the fuel for the real economy in our state and creating greater economic mobility for our residents.

We are asking other businesses, individuals and philanthropic groups to consider supporting Future Connect, by locking arms with us to help even more local young people succeed. Our students truly want to learn; together, we can help them achieve the futures they deserve.

Mark Mitsui is the President of Portland Community College and Roger Hinshaw is the Market President for Bank of America in Oregon and SW Washington.

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