An audit of community colleges in Oregon has implications for the state’s legislative session, which started this week.
The report from the Secretary of State’s Audit Division in December pointed to the need for a greater role from the commission overseeing higher education.
Ben Cannon, executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said there have been some modest gains in completion or transfer numbers over the past decade. Although overall numbers hover around half, he noted there has been greater success for some underrepresented students of color.
“We are graduating more Hispanic/Latino students today than at any prior time, and that’s in spite of the decline in overall enrollment at the colleges,” Cannon reported. “Over the last couple of years in particular that’s been steep.”
The audit showed enrollment dropped faster than most other states both before and during the pandemic. In 2021, Oregon ranked 40th for completions, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center included in the report.
Despite the challenges, the audit pointed to areas where state lawmakers could help the Higher Education Coordinating Commission improve outcomes at Oregon’s 17 community colleges, including increased funding, and collecting more data to measure them.
“The increased role that the auditors envision for the HECC in helping improve student success at community colleges would require greater levels of capacity at the state agency,” Cannon explained. “Or in some cases, greater levels of authority.”
Cannon added his agency and the audit agreed state lawmakers can do more to invest in financial aid.
“Those programs are a partnership between the HECC and the Legislature, and legislative support, particularly on the funding side, is really critical for us to expand those and really meet the spirit of the auditor’s recommendation there,” Cannon contended.
Oregon’s legislative session is slated to run through the middle of June.
Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.