• Community Colleges to Ask Legislature for $32 Million to Mitigate Tuition Increases

    This legislative session, Mt. Hood Community College and Oregon’s 16 other community colleges will ask the state legislature to allocate an additional $32 million to the Community College Support Fund (CCSF) to mitigate tuition increases and restore funding for student advising in the second year of the 2017-2019 biennium.

    Learning Success Specialist Stephanie English works
    with student Erika Cardenas in MHCC’s AVID Center.

    At the end of the 2017 legislative session, the Joint Ways and Means Committee restored more than $70 million to the Public Universities Support Fund (PUSF) to keep the cost of tuition down, but only invested $6 million to do the same at community colleges.

    The lack of funding at the state level forces tuition increases at the local level at both community colleges and public universities. Each are critical parts of the education continuum and the legislature must support both.

    In the last two biennia, the legislature’s investment to the PUSF has grown at twice the rate of property tax and general funding going toward the CCSF. For example, in the 2017 session, general fund dollars into the PUSF increased nearly 27 percent compared to just 13 percent for the CCSF.

    “The lack of funding at the state level forces tuition increases at the community college level. Our colleges serve students with the greatest academic, financial and social challenges, but receive less per student in public funding than our university counterparts,” Dave Hunt, Oregon Community College Association vice president, said. “The legislature must work to ensure students in both community colleges and public universities have the support needed to succeed.”

    In the last three academic years, tuition at MHCC has increased $6 per credit hour for in-state residents, rising from $94 per credit in fall term 2015 to $100 for the 2017-18 academic year. For a student taking 12 credit hours, that increase amounts to more than $70 term.

    Additionally, MHCC serves East Portland – one of the poorest communities in Oregon, according to data from WorkSource Portland Metro. In East Portland, the average fulltime worker makes about $44,000; compare that with West Portland, where the average worker makes $102,000 and earns an income 68 percent higher than that of his or her counterpart in East Multnomah County.

    At MHCC, many students struggle with food insecurity and homelessness. Last March, a study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab found that 1 in 8 students at MHCC have experienced or currently experience homelessness, and that 1 in 3 community college students experiences some form of food insecurity. The college supports these at-risk students as best it can with programs like Barney’s Pantry – a food pantry for students – and its involvement in the Community College STEP (SNAP Training and Employment Program) Consortium. Through the consortium, MHCC provides additional supports, including financial assistance for tuition, bus passes and gas cards, and housing and childcare, to more than 170 students eligible for food stamps. During fall term 2017, approximately 8,000 students enrolled in credit courses at MHCC.

    “Community colleges serve as a critical bridge between K-12 and the universities and provide services to students across the continuum. Investing in community colleges helps build student success across the education spectrum,” Denise Frisbee, Oregon Community College Association president, said.

    Community colleges are working to make transformational changes on their campuses through models like Guided Pathways, which helps students take the right classes at the right time, saving students both time and money. Investing in community colleges now will help colleges continue this path of profound change in how they serve students.

    Like community colleges across Oregon, MHCC struggles with a shortage of academic advisers. However, the college bridges this gap with other student success initiatives, including a $2.2 million, five-year Title III grant aimed at improving retention and supporting underserved student populations. One specific goal of MHCC’s Title III team includes expanding the number of Learning Communities (LCs) at the college. LCs partner classes with a goal of designing new ways to teach students while also fostering community among students and encouraging faculty collaboration across academic fields.

    “We have a target of offering 34 new sections of these LCs by the conclusion of the grant in 2021,” said Lauren Smith, MHCC director of academic support and new student programming.

    “In many ways, these student Learning Communities – and the faculty collaboration that they require to make them positive and supportive learning experiences for students – could set the stage for Guided Pathways, if MHCC chooses to pursue that model in the future,” she added.

    Another Title III initiative currently being developed at MHCC is a re-design of the First-Year Experience (FYE) program. The FYE project focuses on improving student onboarding and offering a more supportive, success-oriented experience to students during their first term at MHCC. A pilot rollout of the FYE is planned for summer 2018.

    MHCC Humanities instructor Sean McGinty teaches a Learning Communities class.