The state has spent nearly $2 million to replicate Eastern Promise. It’s a collaboration between eastern Oregon K-12 schools and higher education to get more students to college or into career training.
The idea is to bring together universities, colleges and K-12 schools to do three things: “To increase access for students to college credits, and to help create college-going cultures, and to align curriculum between high schools and colleges,” said Hilda Rosselli with the Oregon Education Investment Board.
Eastern Promise offers college credits in rural high schools, for things like native Spanish-speaking ability or college-level coursework. There’s a program in the lower grades to encourage grade schoolers to start thinking early about what it would be like to go to college.
Now there are also partnerships in the Portland area, Eugene, southern and central Oregon, but the Salem-based Willamette Promise is moving the fastest. Just a year in, 80 teachers are running 18 courses. But it’s not totally smooth. Chemeketa Community College is leaving Willamette Promise as the grant runs out this month.
Chemeketa officials say 20 professors helped with course outlines and exams. College deans and a full-time advisor also took part. But in the end, Chemeketa decided to focus on its other programs that are geared toward high school students.
“When it was wrapping up, through, all that effort and work, and then comparing what the program was doing to what our program was doing, it just felt like it was best to focus on our programs,” said Chemeketa spokesperson Greg Harris.
When Eastern Promise started, schools and colleges didn’t always agree, either.
“There had to be a lot of cooperation with the colleges and that wasn’t easy at first,” said Mike Royer, a Morrow County School District counselor and a former Eastern Promise staffer. “Because I think the way they kind of looked at it, the high schools might be stealing some of their business.”
Royer remembers meetings led by the superintendent of the education service district with presidents of Blue Mountain and Treasure Valley community colleges and Eastern Oregon University.
It’s still not 100 percent smooth in eastern Oregon. College professors help grade papers and meet with high school teachers to ensure students are doing college-level work. Jim Whittaker at Blue Mountain said his faculty has limits.
“In some areas, such as writing, it has increased their work load dramatically,” said Whittaker. “They do get paid additionally for their time, but there’s only so much time.”
The Oregon Education Association has similar concerns about the workload for public school teachers. OEA President Hanna Vaandering questions whether replicating Eastern Promise is the way to go.
Willamette Promise is moving into 20 more school districts in the Portland area, including Beaverton and Hillsboro. Portland State University has asked for a one-year moratorium on expansions. Willamette officials have said they won’t interfere with existing programs.
State officials are wrestling with how to regulate the various ways Oregon high schools and colleges offer credits.
High school students earned more than 200,000 college credits in the 2013-14 school year. Eastern Promise was responsible for only 13,000 of those.
Eastern Promise didn’t start out as a statewide template — it focused locally.
“We could’ve gone in as a region, or even as individual schools, gone in and purchased some off the shelf careers program that would’ve had no connection to eastern Oregon,” said Jennifer Pambrun, with the Intermountain Education Service District. “This is so, so much more relevant and useful and fun.”
Now, Eastern Promise is expanding locally, too. It plans to add career-technical courses related to business, agriculture, and manufacturing.