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College takes on new plan

College Facts

Columbia Gorge Community College recently printed a fact sheet to illustrate how graduates benefit from improved lifestyles and increased earnings.

EMSI, a company of economic modeling specialists, was hired to calculate figures based on services provided to almost 5,000 students each year.

The firm put together a document that includes these statistics:

• The economy of the CGCC service area has a $6.1 million investment annually from its operations.

• The added income attributable to the accumulation of CGCC credits in the workforce amount to about $36.9 million per year.

• The average CGCC student’s income increases by $8.40 for every dollar invested in classes.

• The average income at the career midpoint of someone with an associate’s degree in the CGCC service area is $31,600.

• Higher earnings of CGCC graduates and associated increases in state income expand the tax base in Oregon by about $4.8 million each year.

• State and local governments allocated about $7.4 million in support of CGCC during fiscal year 2010-11. For every dollar of this support, taxpayers saw a return of $1 in the form of higher tax receipts and avoided social costs.

• By putting people in the workforce, CGCC helps Oregon realize avoided social costs amounting to $247,600 per year due to improved health, reduced crime, lowered welfare and unemployment.

• State and local governments see an annual rate of return of 3.2 percent on their support for CGCC.

— Columbia Gorge Community College is hiring three employees to help more students reach their career goal by earning an associate’s degree or higher.

On the payroll for academic year 2013-14 will be a faculty member charged with retooling developmental education programs to speed students along the path toward their goals. An administrative assistant will make sure students receive the degrees and certifications they have earned, something that can get overlooked when they move on to a job or university.

Marketing of the college and its programs are to be channeled through a new specialist who will be tasked with increasing enrollment. The cost in wages and benefits to the college for these positions is $206,426, according to Lori Ufford, chief student services officer.

“We need to do everything that we can to keep students engaged in their learning and making progress toward their degree so they stay focused,” she said.

Driving the new statewide focus on graduation rates at all levels of education is Gov. John Kitzhaber’s “40-40-20” plan. He has set a goal to make Oregon “one of the best-educated citizenries in the world” by 2025. The Legislature approved his plan in 2011 that has 40 percent of adults in the state earning at least a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent receiving an associate’s or postsecondary certificate and 20 percent obtaining at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

Kitzhaber began pushing for the new strategy in order to attract more industries to Oregon by increasing the skill level of its workforce. At the time the guidelines were initiated, about 10 percent of working-age adults in the state had not completed high school, 42 percent had only a high school diploma, 18 percent had an associate’s or some type of credential and 30 percent had earned a bachelor’s.

With less than half of Oregon’s high school graduates enrolling in college, Oregon’s lead official felt it was time to raise the bar for educational institutions.

The achievement compacts tied to the 40-40-20 goal replaced the No Child Left Behind mandates after Oregon sought a waiver from the federal government. The new accountability model requires K-12 schools to attain a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025.

The Oregon Education Investment Board, chaired by the governor, put together outcome measures and set up guidelines for the compacts, which were enacted in 2012-13. The 12-member panel appointed by the governor will hold state schools accountable for attaining these standards. The compacts are required as part of the statutory budget process and state officials plan to eventually tie funding levels for individual schools to the success of students.

“The compact sort of lays out a roadmap for us,” said Ufford. “There are very concrete goals that we can measure and that is helpful.”

CGCC spent last year planning and coordinating enactment of its compact with the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development.

The gorge college also gathered information from students about service delivery needs and is now moving forward on all fronts to meet the new challenge.

Ufford said CGCC has a graduation rate of 41.1 percent, but would like to see about 10 more students earn degrees or certificates each year to fulfill its role under the new statewide plan.

Another concern is that there are about 150 fewer full-time equivalent students than the 1,248 last year, which college officials believe is due to a recovering economy and fewer federal dollars for student aid. When economic times are bad, Ufford said, people who have lost jobs come to the college to retrain for another career. When jobs are more readily available, she said it is typical for enrollment to drop off, but that is a trend educators are trying to change.

“Overall, this is an area of worry around the state,” she said.

With Oregon united by the new plan, college administrators and faculty are working more closely with The Dalles Wahtonka and Hood River Valley high schools on transition programs.

“We want to give students not only the skills they need but the incentive to pursue a higher education,” said Ufford.

An example of that collaboration is the Gorge Scholar program that rewards 24 students earning a 3.5 grade point average or higher with two years of free college tuition for up to 18 credits per term. The program is run on a first-come, first-served basis, but any graduating senior with strong grades who also earns high marks on CGCC’s placement test will have his or her tuition costs covered and pay only book and auxiliary fees. Participants must maintain a full-time course load, earn a 3.25 cumulative grade point average and perform eight hours of community service each term to maintain eligibility.

Another new program offered to high school students in 2013-14 is a college-level writing class that allows them to earn credits for higher education.

“We’ve been pretty proactive about trying to become a part of the high schools in the area as opposed to them having to come to us,” said Ufford.

For the last several years, the college has been actively involved in supporting regional robotics competitions for elementary, middle and high school students. The college has sponsored the Junior First Lego League competition for 7 to 9-year-olds and a High School Wind Challenge where high school teams research, design and build a wind-turbine device.

The college also helps orchestrate the Gorge Gravity Games each year where teenagers design and construct soap box derby cars.

Ufford said the new focus on the achievement compacts is part of the college’s continuing commitment to send graduates into the world who can fill workforce needs and earn a living that provides them with a high quality of life.

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