Oregon community colleges use state investment package to support students

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Jan. 2, 2023 1 p.m.

Colleges are using money from Future Ready Oregon to offer discounted and free courses, support student needs and expand programming

Community college students across Oregon are beginning to see the benefits of a multi-million dollar statewide workforce package.

Colleges have started offering free and discounted courses, funding for student needs, and expanded programming using money from Future Ready Oregon — the $200 million investment in job training and education passed by the state Legislature last year.


Out of that $200 million, Future Ready has funneled roughly $15 million across Oregon’s 17 community colleges to improve mostly short-term programs focused on hands-on industries. These career pathway efforts can lead either to more schooling or straight into the workforce. Some colleges have also gotten extra Future Ready grants through local workforce investment boards.

Related: Oregon lawmakers make $200 million jobs investment

Clackamas Community College received roughly $980,000 from its Future Ready career pathway grant. It’s using some of that money to offer low- and no-cost programs to students starting next week.

CCC is providing the discounted classes in more than 90 career technical programs. They will be prioritizing students from underrepresented communities including people of color, women, low-income earners and veterans.

“The goal is to help students start on a career pathway in a career technical, hands-on program and complete it and then become employed,” Britany Ellerbrook, CCC’s director of Future Ready Oregon Career Pathways, told OPB.

A man in a Metallica T-shirt holds up an aluminum airplane part, painted white. It was created by one of his students.

In this file photo, welding instructor John Phelps holds an airplane part that one of his students made after completing the Metallica Scholars program at Clackamas Community College. With additional funds from the Oregon Legislature, the college is providing extra support for students on pathway programs into welding other subjects.

Jeff Thompson / OPB

Ellerbrook said the college is offering even more support for pathway programs into health care, welding, irrigation and computerized numerical control operation. She said in those areas, the college is providing extra academic support for students who are in programs such as adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages.

Ellerbrook said financial aid can’t cover many of the programs because they don’t offer students enough credits to meet aid requirements.

“Now with this funding we can actually pay for the tuition,” she said. “We weren’t really able to do that before.”

If students end up getting tuition covered through scholarships or other means, Ellerbrook said, the college can offer Future Ready funds to pay for needs like housing, transportation, childcare or textbooks.

“We’re trying to take a holistic look at the student and what they qualify for and maximize all of those resources for them,” she said.

Ellerbrook said students will be eligible for around $3,000 in the winter term, which starts this month. If those students are still taking the programs the following term, they’ll be eligible for another $3,000.

“The career pathway is just a start … but it’s a great start,” Ellerbrook said. “In six months you can be ready to be employed in some of these fields and industries that really need folks with those skills.”


More student support from Future Ready

According to the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, 12 of the state’s 17 community colleges have indicated that they’re using money from the Future Ready Oregon career pathway grants to provide tuition and fee support to students.

Chemeketa Community College is spending $300,000 on direct student support by covering tuition for career technical courses and through wraparound supports that can help students access college. such as gas cards and child care. It’s also funding some integrated education and training programs that offer additional support to students whose first language isn’t English.

A boxy building surrounded by trees

Central Oregon Community College's Health Careers Center on its Bend campus. The college has spent $22,500 to support students in a number of career technical programs, including nursing, by paying for tuition, fees, textbooks and required tools.

Central Oregon Community College

Central Oregon Community College has spent $22,500 to support students in career technical programs such as nursing, graphic design and manufacturing by paying for tuition, fees, textbooks and required tools. It plans to spend another $125,000 in additional funds to students this upcoming term.

Both Clatsop and Linn-Benton community colleges have spent Future Ready funds on needs such as textbooks.

Many colleges have also applied for additional Future Ready grants though local workforce development boards. Southwestern Oregon Community College received a grant from the Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, and it’s using that money to support students who are pursuing career pathway programs.

Portland Community College prepares to ramp up correctional facility programming

Portland Community College is using some of its Future Ready Oregon dollars to fund a pilot program in preparation for the reinstatement of Pell grants for incarcerated people this July.

The college is providing four faculty members to teach writing and college readiness this winter at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon’s women’s prison.

The college says there are about 40 students at Coffee Creek who have signed up for one or both classes.

A file photo of Oregon's only women's prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oct. 19, 2022. Portland Community College says about 40 students at Coffee Creek have signed up for classes it will offer there this winter.

A file photo of Oregon's only women's prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oct. 19, 2022. Portland Community College says about 40 students at Coffee Creek have signed up for classes it will offer there this winter.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

“As a college, it’s our mission to serve marginalized and underrepresented people – and this group has definite access issues,” said Lisa Regan-Vienop, manager of Corrections Education Transitions at PCC, in an email.

Regan-Vienop said that Coffee Creek expects to release close to 100 adults in custody to the PCC service district over the next 18 months.

Related: Federal grants restored for incarcerated students

“The college, in partnership with the Department of Corrections, is well positioned to strengthen transitions for AICs reentering society by creating clear pathways to the College and promoting continued education to increase the economic mobility of AICs,” she said.

PCC will add more faculty in spring to teach additional offerings at Coffee Creek, such as math and health courses.