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Public colleges win vote

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, said input by a constituent changed his mind about opposing a bill that repeals a ban on public community colleges creating programs that compete with private career colleges.

“I initially felt that the prohibition leveled the playing field between colleges that received taxpayer dollars to operate and for-profit colleges that didn’t have that advantage,” he said. “That was the tough part to weigh out.”

The existing law required that a public institution alert a for-profit college if it wanted to set up a new program. If the private school determined the new course would have an “adverse Impact” on any program it offered or intended to establish, the community college was barred from moving forward with the plan.

Huffman said Dr. Frank Toda, president of Columbia Gorge Community College, educated him about how the barrier imposed by the existing rule made it more difficult to set up courses in technical areas, such as health occupations.

Toda said an example of that problem was exhibited when Central Oregon Community College had to eliminate non-credit training instruction of phlebotomy (the practice of collecting blood). That training program at the Bend school had to be dropped because an online institution in Eugene lodged a complaint about COCC “invading their territory.”

“At the end of the day, I ended up supporting House Bill 3341 because I believe in our local community college and what they are doing to help people in the gorge train for meaningful and good paying careers,’’ said Huffman.

The measure to repeal the ban was approved by both chambers and signed by Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-North Portland, on Tuesday. The bill now awaits only Gov. John Kitzhaber’s signature to become law.

Opponents of HB 3441 said the prohibition benefitted taxpayers by ensuring public resources weren’t being invested in a program at a public college that was already available in the private sector.

Gary Conkling, a lobbyist for the Northwest Career College Federation, which opposed the repeal, said the change in law was likely to bring less private investment to programs in Oregon.

The Oregon Health Policy Board and the Oregon Community College Association each took a strong stand in support of HB 3341 during debates in House and Senate committees.

OCCA officials said the change in rules will increase competition between public and private institutions that will provide students with more options.

OHPB called for the removal of the prohibition that officials said created a barrier for the future of healthcare workforce education.

Toda said the new law restores equality to the educational system because for-profit colleges will no longer be able to overwhelm clinical sites and crowd out existing community college programs.

“As a small rural college with a nationally recognized health occupations training program, CGCC has had to carefully navigate the seas of a potential Adverse Impact claim,” said Toda. “In other areas that support our focus on the technology industry growing in the Columbia Gorge region, we have had to always carefully consider any programs that we offer that could compete with a ‘for-profit’ program.

“Obviously, this has tended to dampen our ability to serve our local community with the variety they deserve.”

Toda said if the college achieves independent accreditation status this summer, it will be much easier to develop programs that are customized to serve the needs of the community without the adverse impact rule in place.

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