Proposed bill could merge colleges and universities

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Proposed bill could merge colleges and universities

Published 6:39 p.m. PT Feb. 17, 2017 | Updated 9:04 p.m. PT Feb. 18, 2017

Karlie Schwartzwald is the first to say she didn’t do well in high school.

But even with a low GPA, Schwartzwald, 22, wanted to prove herself. She started by attending Lane Community College in 2012 in her hometown of Eugene.

“I really liked Lane. I got a really great education there,” she said, highlighting the low cost and challenging classes.

In 2015, she transferred to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, where she is now studying math.

“The transfer process was the worst part,” she said, explaining that a lot of her credits only transferred as general credits and not toward specific class requirements.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, wants a stronger connection between community colleges and universities to improve student performance.

Senate Bill 8 would allow community colleges and public universities to merge into one institution.

When hearing about the bill, Schwartzwald had mixed feelings.

“If the merger would increase the cost of community college, that would be detrimental to low-income students,” she said.

Schwartzwald said one of the benefits of community colleges is that you can get in no matter what; she was able to get in with her low GPA.

“I would be worried the admissions standards would be too high,” she said.

Courtney  said the bill would provide more options for students at a lower cost.

In a recent hearing, Courtney said a merger would mean “one president, one legal department, one dean of students, working together.”

“The two institutions could be leaner and stronger,” he said.

Courtney argued the process of transferring from two-year to four-year school can be “daunting” and means students often have to choose between going to a school that offers trade classes and one that doesn’t.

“Our education system has got to change if we are going to truly serve the people, the students,” he said. “We’ve created a society where we see community colleges and technical schools are consolation prizes. This has created different classes of people and has only widened the (gap) between the rich and the poor.

“We should support every student on whatever path they choose.”

 

The institutions submitting a proposal for the merger would have to explain how the combined institution would address things such as financial and legal procedures, the transfer of employees, combining a budget, and what academic programs would be offered.

Ben Cannon, executive director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said the commission has had little formal involvement with the bill, though it did submit testimony to the first Senate hearing. They remain neutral.

“We appreciate the intent (of the bill) — to ensure seamless pathways (for students) within higher education,” he said.

Cannon said a lot of effort is put into making the transfer process easier, but the commission hasn’t really talked about mergers before.

Similar mergers have happened across the country, such as the merger between Georgia State University, one of the state’s four research institutions, and Georgia Perimeter College, a two-year institution. However, Cannon said, to his knowledge, this would be unprecedented in Oregon.

Courtney first debated the idea in 2006 with leaders of Western Oregon University, but it never made it to the Legislature. Courtney said it didn’t make it further due to “egos.”

Greg Harris, a spokesman for Chemeketa Community College, said the college hasn’t made any plans concerning the bill.

“Since it is pending legislation, we haven’t speculated on what it might mean nor have we made any plans,” he said. “If it does become law, we will take direction from our Board of Education.”

He said it would be hard to predict how a merger would impact the college because working out the nuances of accepting credentials would require work and conversation after the bill became law.

Cannon said the success of the bill, if passed, would come down to the details.

“Until those details (such as tuition, admission standards, and faculty changes) were determined, it’s impossible to say if this would produce more accessible and affordable options for students,” he said.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate and Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

Senate Bill 8 at the Capitol

The initial hearing with the Senate Committee on Education was Feb. 7. 

As of Feb. 17, neither a fiscal or revenue impact statement has been issued yet; one amendment has been made; no meetings or floor sessions have been scheduled.

For more information, go to www.oregonlegislature.gov or call 1-800-332-2313.

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