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Ways and Means Roadshow: A $510-million plea for Oregon community colleges

Campus community members called for an increase of over $80 million to the proposed 2013-2015 budget during testimonials given  to elected officials on April 19.

COCC President James Middleton addresses a panel of Oregon State officials at the Ways and Means Committee Road Show in Bend on April 19. Photo by Noah Hughes | The Broadside

Students and faculty from Central Oregon Community College attended the regional meeting of the Joint Ways and Means Committee at the William Healy Armory in Bend. At the meeting, members of the community gave testimonials in front of state congressman and senators, demonstrating the need for funding in various programs.
James Middleton, COCC president, was in attendance to address the panel.
“[I’m here] trying to help give perspective on the challenges and benefits of further investments,”  Middleton said.
Among the topics brought to the attention of the committee was the ability of COCC to fulfill Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s “40-40-20” plan. The plan calls for 40 percent of Oregon adults to have earned at least an associates degree or post secondary credential by 2025, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
“Some of you may ask if we are ready, willing and able to move forward on ‘40-40-20,’” Middleton said to the committee. “We have the talent and creativity to be ready. We are more than willing. But, frankly, we are not able with the present resource level.”
In his address, Middleton requested $510 million of the state Ways and Means budget go to the Community College Support Fund. This amount is much higher than the current $428 million proposed by the committee, according to Middleton.
“COCC has already stepped up to the challenge. We have demonstrated our commitment,” Middleton said. “COCC credit enrollment doubled in four years, but public funding per student declined 50 percent. We cannot step up to the next level at the co-chairs’ proposed funding.”
This decline in funding has correlated with a rise in student tuition rates throughout Oregon. The state allocated $391 million to community colleges in the 1997-1999 budget, while tuition fees averaged $1,619.  In 2011-2013, community colleges received $396 million, yet tuition has increased 250 percent, to an average of $4,126, according to the Oregon Community College Association.
“Students are the ones that are really feeling the brunt of this, with tuition increasing,” Kathy Smith, COCC math professor said at the meeting. “It just seems unfair and really unacceptable that they bear the brunt of this burden.”
Student tuition at COCC has increased 38 percent in the past five years and is set to go up six percent in 2013-2014, according to Middleton.
Kurt Killinger, Associated Students of Central Oregon Community College’s director
of legislative affairs, spoke on behalf of COCC students at the committee meeting.
“Affordable education is crucial,” Killinger said, “so I can accomplish my goals, and my daughter can do the same.”
The Bend meeting was the third of six throughout the state, where the committee will continue to hear testimonials of community members. A vote on the budget will take place in the coming months before going into effect July 1.

–Darwin Ikard

The Broadside




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