Proudly Looking Back, Boldly Looking Forward: PCC at the Capitol
By Beth Myrick with Aubry Ledbetter Gabbard
Earlier this year, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community allies of PCC descended upon the Oregon State Capitol to boldly ask for change. Earlier in the day, groups dressed in PCC spirit shirts sat in on floor sessions in the house and senate which included a performance by the Rock Creek Choir. In the galleria, PCC’s Aviation, Future Connect and MakerSpace programs staffed tables to hand out gifts and talk about their programs.
Proudly Looking Back
In the mid-day, PCC attendees flocked to the Salem Conference Center for the PCC Diamond Alumni Luncheon. Each year, PCC celebrates five alumni. At the luncheon, each Diamond Alumnus spoke of his or her experience at PCC. Across the board was an appreciation of the opportunities PCC provides. It is a stepping off point, it can be the beginning of a great career, and the reason it works is because PCC offers real-life experience. Larry O’Dea, the Police Chief of Portland, said that going to PCC and being taught by real-world instructors jump-started his career. Likewise Joshua Fegles, owner of Jude’s Foods, thanked the school for its business opportunities and learning experiences that prepared him for the future. The follow-up speaker, a student in the Legislative Intern Program, Ketchura Antoine, declared that “PCC is so much more than the education that they have to offer, but the opportunities. I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned in the classroom, the knowledge that I have attained, and actually apply it.”
PCC also invites students who have backgrounds that would have previously made it impossible to go to college. Dr. Carmen Thompson, now a professor of History at Sylvania, said, “It’s because of the opportunity that PCC has provided me that I’ve dedicated my professional career to helping the under-served and under-represented populations achieve their educational goals and personal goals.” Being a black woman or a Native American woman used to mean you had no chance, but our alumni prove that we can continue to move forward on the work that needs to be done. “I reached places I never thought were possible for me,” said Barbara Gladue, advocate for the Native American Youth and Family Center. No one feels this more strongly than Mitchell Jackson, who has gone from prison to professor. “I feel like I could not even imagine these things when I was at PCC, but PCC was the foundation for me being able to do these things… PCC is the beginning to a great, great career.” (I recommend everyone check out his book, The Residue Years.
Boldly Moving Forward
Reaching for the dreams we originally thought were impossible is all well and good, as long as students are able to actually afford college. And so, the student ambassadors split into groups with board members for the second part of the day, going office-to-office asking for support to raise our budget from $535 million to $550 million.
In my group was Janet, a PCC student ambassador; Deanna Palm, Chair of the PCC Board of Directors; and Sylvia Kelley, now PCC’s current acting president. We met with two state representatives – Joe Gallegos and Susan McLain – and one senator – Chuck Riley. Unfortunately, Rep. Gallegos was only able to greet us briefly at the luncheon, but his legislative assistants sat with us in his stead.
We already know students can go out and do great things – we know that we ourselves can build businesses, climb mountains, help develop and hopefully stabilize the economy by bringing our ideas to action as the Diamond Alumni have. Unfortunately, the economy itself is what stands in the way of all students achieving success. “The barrier to change is funding to make that change,” Deanna Palm put it succinctly.
There is no one solution to providing more affordable community college. A topic of great popularity is textbook prices, and it came up in each of our discussions. Rock Creek student Janet said, “When I’m looking at classes, I usually check what textbooks are needed, and if it’s too much, I don’t take the class.” The response to this never varied. All the legislators we met agreed that this impacts a student’s ability to graduate, find a career, or even simply feed themselves or their families. Senator Chuck Riley has already been looking into reducing textbook cost, in fact, and even had a study on his desk about how we might go about that. “Textbook prices have just jumped enormously in the last 20 years,” he agreed. “I’d like to see us be able to have downloadable textbooks for everything.”
Taking Action Now
PCC is taking the lead, at least in Oregon, in providing online resources (such as Open Educational Resources). A pilot OER program that started in Spring term is offering free resources for a couple of classes. However, other states are already doing this effectively, and Chair Palm is excited since “it really does put dollars back in our students’ pocket, and it doesn’t really cost a lot.”
That said, PCC would make good use of additional funding. Tuition and fees keep going up (Rep. McLain’s has a video on her website, Making College Affordable), and if we’re to keep providing those great opportunities to future Diamond Alumni, we need some financial relief. “As an elective official you try never to over-promise,” said McLain. “I want to make sure you know that I care and I’m working as hard as I can to figure out how we can get as much as we can.”
This was slightly more reassuring than Senator Riley’s response that the floor had just met to discuss how much money exists in the budget. He’d love to support every well-deserved school, but “…things like corrections get in the way, and healthcare, human services, disability – all those things get in the way of giving money to other folks that we’d like to. So, I assume that you’re in favor of us raising taxes?” We laughed, although the subject is a painful one. A discussion of tax reform deserves its own article but needless to say, while people certainly support PCC, getting that to reflect in the system is an uphill battle.
One thing that has been a huge success in that regard is the “Aspiration to College” bill, sponsored by Rep. Gallegos (who wrote an article about it here). Its aim is to help low-income and first-generation community college students succeed by developing scholarship programs and support services. It passed the House unanimously, and is now heading to the Senate. Senator Riley told us that he plans to support the bill.
Meanwhile, HB 2513 and HB 2516 were in the House Higher Education, Innovation, and Workforce Development Committee when House adjourned. HB 2513 would call on Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission “to develop, maintain and manage book buying consortium to purchase academic course materials.” The bill would declare a state of emergency and require the commission to permit all post-secondary educational institutions, like PCC, to participate. HB 2516 would require colleges to include the cost of course materials, like textbooks, in their mandatory tuition and fees. PCC ally and House Speaker, Rep. Tobias Read, is the chair of the Higher Education committee.
Ultimately, what we want is to provide as many resources to students as possible to get them out into the economy and succeeding in their own lives. We can keep reality in mind while hoping for the best, and know that the precedent is set: PCC can truly be a strong foundation for bright futures. A worthy goal, if ever there was one.
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