Oh, Give Me A Home: Kids, stability, and education

Amy is a fourth grade teacher in a Portland metro region elementary school with a high percentage of transient students. Anna, Steven and Thuyet are her students. [We have used pseudonyms to ensure the anonymity of the informants.]

“By the second week of each new school year, it’s plainly evident which students have been in the same school for several years and which are recent arrivals,” Amy says. “Attending school in the same building with the same teachers is an incredibly important indicator of success.”

Amy, Thuyet, Steven, and Anna are four of the many students, teachers, families, and school administrators in the metroscape contending with the impacts of housing instability on the education and future chances of today’s kids. Student mobility impacts not just the individual child who is entering and leaving different schools during the same year, but also other students and the overall education system, according to school administrators and researchers.

Conversely, improving housing stability—decreasing the percentage of households with school age children who move involuntarily—is likely to reap benefits not only for the affected students, but also for other families in the community.

Thuyet sometimes lives in a shelter with his family. Since he began school four years ago, he has attended five schools. He says that being at the shelter is “really cool” because he gets “babysat by nice people.” When he is at the shelter, he gets to do his homework in his babysitter’s room.

Thuyet sometimes lives in a shelter with his family. Since he began school four years ago, he has attended five schools. He says that being at the shelter is “really cool” because he gets “babysat by nice people.” When he is at the shelter, he gets to do his homework in his babysitter’s room.

Steven lives with his brothers, his mom, his grandparents, an aunt and uncle. He does his homework in the kitchen. Sometimes his brothers do their work at the same time. Sometimes it is hard for Steven to concentrate on his school work because his five year old cousins come into the kitchen and cause trouble.

Jake does his homework on the front porch because the family lives with his sick grandfather, for whom the house must be kept very warm. It is too warm inside to do homework.

Anna is a fourth grader who lives in a two bedroom apartment with her parents, two sisters and one brother. All four kids share a bedroom with two beds, where the three girls do their homework while their little brother plays in the same room. Since kindergarten, Anna has attended four schools. Her favorite subject is science.

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Moving Up or Just Moving?homelessness definition

Is moving such a bad thing? The answer is: it depends.

Mobility is part of the American way of life. According to the U.S. Census 2000, nearly one in five households moved during a fifteen month period that began January 1999. Portland metro area residents are even more mobile than average. Nearly one in four Portland area households moved, including nearly half of all renters (47.7%) and more than one in 10 homeowners (11.4%) during that fifteen month period.

Whether moving is a good thing or a bad thing for kids depends in part on whether families are moving by choice or not. Research on school age children shows that the impacts on the two groups tend to differ, according to PSU graduate student Renée Ramey.

Ramey found research that correlates voluntary moves with higher socio-economic status and improved long-term outcomes for the children. These families may move to pursue a better life for their family. They are not likely to move multiple times during a school year. They can time their move to occur when it would be least disruptive. Students from these families tend to bear the costs of moving (loss of familiar classmates and teachers, lack of continuity in class work, adaptation to a new environment) during the first year after their move, while the benefits of an improved environment or economic status tend to continue to accrue over time.

Other families, typically those with lower incomes, are forced to move. These are the households for whom housing instability—the lack of place to live on an ongoing basis that is within their means—is a critical issue.

Students with higher average mobility rates not only experience the personal dislocation associated with frequent moves, but they also tend to cycle in and out of schools that serve a more unstable population. For these students, the adverse effects of housing instability accumulate over time.

The Costs of Housing Instabilityhousing instability costs

Children and youth experiencing ongoing housing instability or homelessness experience a host of threats, including illness, hunger, exposure to violence, and impacts on their mental health.
When kids move, they also lose ground academically, and this can affect the options they have later in life as adults. The more they move, the more ground they lose. According to some estimates, students lose three to six months of education with every move. They are at higher risk of falling behind their peers and failing to graduate.

According to Ron Naso, Superintendent of North Clackamas Schools, student mobility wreaks havoc with the progression of a student through a curriculum based on remaining in the same school for the duration of his or her studies.

“Our educational system in Oregon is premised on continuity. If a student changes schools or school districts, there’s no particular guarantee that the requisite prior learnings were addressed along the way,” Naso says. “When students can stay in the same cohort throughout their time in a school, we see a much better level of performance.”

That perspective is echoed by Amy, the fourth-grade teacher in a school with a highly mobile population. “Each individual school devises a ‘building plan’ for instruction. We plan vertically, meaning that we take the objectives and benchmarks that a graduating fifth grade student must have in order to be successful and break it down by grade level,” she says. If a student doesn’t progress through the plan, they may miss critical elements.

Less than a third of Amy’s fourth-graders have attended the same school since first grade. “I have students who have no idea of where to place a period, students who are unfamiliar with the rules of capitalization, students who have missed significant parts of academic years, students who have fallen through the cracks,” she says.

According to Jean DeMaster, Executive Director of Human Services, a non-profit that provides housing and services to low-income families in East Multnomah County, homeless kids face huge learning challenges. Students may have to adjust to new ways of learning. For example, one teacher may have explained subtraction one way, but another might explain it differently, and the child can get lost between the two. And, as Amy indicated, students can miss content essential to their progression.

High school age kids who move frequently during the year face an additional set of challenges. “The educational system is not built for highly mobile youth, like kids who are dealing with highly stressful situations or housing issues,” says Jonathan Zook, Homeless Program Liaison for Portland Public Schools.

In Portland Public Schools, if a high school student is not enrolled for classes by December 1, that student cannot start earning credits again until February. While alternative schools and special education programs permit students to earn partial credit or provide flexible timing, high school students in traditional programs may find themselves far behind their age cohort in progressing toward graduation.

The problems can be compounded when students change school systems. “When high school students move, they may lose credits if they change school districts,” according to Nancy Faaren, Principal at Fort Vancouver High School.

When kids of any age move, they also lose something called “social capital”—the benefits derived from having relationships with others in their environment. “Parents and children who have many friends in their community and who are highly involved with other members of the family have more social capital than those who do not,” Ramey says.

“In times of stress, social capital can help buffer families. When families move, often these ties are broken. Kids can lose classmates, teachers, friends and helpful adults in their lives just when they need them the most,” Ramey says.

The kids who move are not the only ones who are affected by housing insecurity. Student mobility forces everyone in the classroom to adjust to fluxes in the environment.

“In elementary school, the adaptation challenges can be significant,” Naso says. “Teachers have to adapt to include the new student, and the class overall has to make adaptations. Personalities and relationships change. Some kids coming in might be very disruptive until the teacher can assimilate them.”

Studies have found that homeless children have four times the average rate of delayed development. According to the National Center of Family Homelessness, 21% of homeless kids repeat a grade due to frequent absence from school, compared to 5% of other children. Other impacts of student mobility include an increase in negative behavior and a decreased likelihood of graduating from high school. These impacts persist even when the effects of other possible causes of poor performance, such as socio-economic status, are considered.

The Geography of Student Mobility

Mapping student mobility is a complex task because there is not a single, generally-accepted measure. One way is to measure a school’s stability rate—the percentage of students enrolled in the beginning of the year who are also enrolled at the end of the year. A class with an enrollment of 30 students on October 1 would have a stability rate of 90% if 27 of those same students were enrolled on May 1.
While the stability rate portrays one dimension of classroom flux, it does not necessarily capture the full extent of student mobility because it does not count the number of students who come and go during the course of the year. In the example above, it is possible that the class had only three part-year students, or it could have had 11, 18 or any other number three or greater.

A second measurement of student mobility is the percentage of students enrolled in a school during an academic year who met the definition of “homeless” (see sidebar). The McKinney-Vento Act, the federal legislation pertaining to homelessness, defines a homeless individual as one who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Not only does it include families and youth living on the street, but it also includes those doubling up with other households, living from motel to motel, in temporary foster care, or living in cars.

While homeless students can remain in the same class throughout an academic year or longer, often their situation results in their percent homeless mapchanging schools. National studies have found that 40% of homeless children attend two different schools within a single year, and 28% attend three or more different schools.

The stability rate and the percentage of students who are homeless generate a sense of classroom turnover. While neither measure alone is complete, when taken in combination the two are useful in describing the relative degree of student flux in a classroom, school, district or county.
Within Oregon metro-area school districts, stability rates range from a low of just under 86% to a high of more than 97%. Within individual public schools, stability rates range from just below 80% to nearly 99%, a high degree of variation.

Homeless children constitute more than a third of all homeless individuals in Oregon. Oregon public schools enrolled 1,500 homeless students in the 2004-2005 school year, which constitutes approximately 2.4% of all students statewide.

Significant variation exists among Oregon counties with respect to the percentage of their enrollment composed of homeless students. On the high end, Lincoln and Jackson Counties had the highest proportions at 7.1% and 5.1%, respectively, while Wheeler, Wallowa and Grant counties reported no homeless students. Among the six counties of the metroscape, Columbia reported the lowest share of homeless students (less than 1%) and Multnomah County the highest (nearly 2.5%).

Most Oregon homeless students—six of 10—were doubled up with other households. The remaining students were living in shelters, hotels or other temporary lodging, or they were living in the open.
A pattern of mobility is often overlaid with other stressors on a school system, such as a high rate of free or reduced lunches (an indicator of poverty) and a high percentage of students who do not speak English at home. These same districts also face the challenge of serving expanding school-age populations without the resources to provide additional facilities.

School Level Stability
Source: Oregon Department of Education (click to enlarge)

How Schools Are Responding

By federal law, schools are required to provide assistance to homeless children to keep them in school and help them succeed. The McKinney Vento Act mandates that school districts designate a Homeless Liaison to assist students, provide access to enrollment in the school of origin, provide transportation from where they are living to the school of origin, and provide access to services available to non-homeless students.

According to Zook, a homeless student liaison with Portland Public Schools, being able to stay in the same school is a big advantage to high school age youth. “It’s their rock, their stability when everything else may be in chaos. Their friends and teachers are there.”

“Each kid is different,” Zook says. One student who was homeless during part of her senior year graduated among the top five students in her class recently, he says.

Renee Holmes is a former homeless mother of three teenage girls who sees great value in the services that the schools provide. Sometimes homeless parents are not able to cope with taking care of their kids’ needs.

“I was chronically homeless from 1998 through 2003, and in and out of homeless shelters with my three girls,” she says. She ticks off the impacts on her girls.

“My oldest missed three-quarters of her ninth grade because of unstable housing. It’s hard to give busses an address. Moving all the time affects schoolwork. My kids didn’t have a computer or a quiet place to work,” she says.

Some homeless kids develop “an attitude,” Holmes says. “Their perception of school becomes something like ‘why bother’” to try to attend if they don’t even have a place to live.

Against all odds, Holmes’s story has a happy ending. No longer homeless, she is the Community Resource Coordinator for Open House Ministries, a homeless family program in Vancouver, Washington. Her girls have rebounded and are excelling. She credits the Vancouver homeless liaison with coming through for her girls when she was not able to do so herself.

Homeless liaisons not only help kids and parents navigate the educational system; they also assist with linking them to social services, after-school programs, health services, free and reduced lunches, clothing, hygiene products, and shelter. “We serve as the connection between schools and the community,” says Kristin Kinnie, Homeless Program Coordinator for North Clackamas Schools and Site Coordinator for the Family Support Center.

Despite all these services, the key ingredient is housing. “The education of our kids would be so much stronger if they lived in stable housing,” Kinnie says. “There’s just a general lack of resources for homeless families, and that impacts kids.”

What Housing Providers Are Doing

Homeless service providers and schools have been coordinating at the service delivery level for many years. “Homeless service providers understand the link between keeping kids in school and preventing future homelessness,” Jean DeMaster, Executive Director of Human Solutions, says. Homeless kids who fall behind become potential candidates for homelessness as adults.

“To get stability for the family, one of the first things you need to do is get the kids in school,” she says. This works both to the benefit of the kids, who need continuity in schooling to succeed, but also to the benefit of the parents, who need to spend their days seeking work and housing.

Recently, housing providers, homeless advocates, and funders in a four-county region (Clark, Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah Counties) have crafted a new, more flexible approach to meeting the housing and service needs of homeless families. Called Bridges to Housing, the program is built around three principles:

1. Provide permanent affordable housing to families as long as it is needed.
2. Provide intensive family services to build on the strengths of family members.
3. Provide child services, including school support, to address the needs of kids.

The 10-year goal is to provide 300 units of family housing supported by services, including case management, employment support for adults, and school support for kids. The program has just begun a three-year pilot phase and recently issued a $900,000 request for proposals to housing and service providers in the four counties, according to Alison McIntosh, Project Associate with the Neighborhood Partnership Fund. Meyer Memorial Trust provided a $500,000 challenge grant and the Gates Foundation provided a $1 million three-year matching grant to help bankroll the pilot phase, which project sponsors anticipate will result in 30 to 60 units of housing.

According to DeMaster, the benefits of a “housing first” approach is that the family is moved into permanent housing from the start instead of moving from shelter to transitional housing then finally to permanent housing. This approach can mean a world of difference to kids in school, she says.
“They may be able to stay in their local school. If the family can’t find housing near that school, then they can pick a school and neighborhood and only move once. Then we focus on helping the kids stay in school,” she says.

In addition to providing housing and access to social services, this initiative will include at least $1,700 per family per year for client services or direct payments in support of family goals. In the area of school support, these payments could cover an assessment for learning disabilities, participation in an after-school program, and attending school field trips or other extra-curricular activities that may not be available without financial assistance, McIntosh says.

Also promising is the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative led by Portland Commissioner Erik Sten, which is aimed at retaining and recruiting families with children to Portland neighborhoods. Portland Public Schools is one of the few school districts in the region losing school enrollment. Analysts attribute the declining enrollment in part to families being priced out of core city neighborhoods. In districts outside the Portland core, analysts report that enrollment is up precipitously because families are moving to where they can find affordable family housing.

“There is a direct link to Portland’s school enrollment and housing choices,” Sten says. “We want to ensure that Portland has housing options for people in all circumstances, including parents raising children. In order to have healthy schools, we need to provide affordable and appropriate housing options for families.”

The overall initiative embraces numerous city bureaus and is supported by $2.5 million in new City of Portland funding and the realignment of existing programs, according to Rich Rodgers, Coordinator of the Schools, Family, Housing Initiative.

Family housing initiatives include boosting funding to programs providing affordable homeownership, creating a new housing stabilization program, and utilizing urban renewal and other funding to encourage new construction of family-oriented infill housing in and around selected school sites.
The housing stabilization program is a new rent assistance fund intended to help families keep their children in the same school throughout the academic year despite economic hardships and other challenges that can prompt moves. Funded with $500,000 in general fund resources, the program is currently under design, according to Rodgers.

Rodgers says that the program will work through existing school contacts, such as the SUN program, to identify when kids are at risk of an involuntary move. The notion is that a small amount of targeted assistance at a critical juncture may result in forestalling a move or possible homelessness. Funds could be used for rent stabilization to keep the family in place and direct financial assistance for one-time costs such as utility deposits, should the family have to move.

The Portland Development Commission has identified $5.5 million in proposed FY 07-08 funding to support new family-oriented infill development in key areas. Potential areas may include the Cully neighborhood, the River District, Hillsdale, Humboldt, Lents and East Portland within David Douglas, Rodgers says.

The Initiative also includes a small grant program funded by the City of Portland to be administered by Portland Schools Foundation. Grants will support collaborative efforts by community partners who want to make their neighborhood more family friendly and/or improve their schools. One of the potential uses of funds is to support family housing by helping families find and keep homes near neighborhood schools.

Meeting The Need?

Both housing providers and homeless student liaisons in schools agree that there are not enough resources to meet the needs of involuntarily mobile and homeless families. The need for affordable housing when seen through the struggles of a child experiencing housing instability takes on a new urgency and meaning.

The fact that more than one-third of Oregon’s homeless population consists of children calls for a re-examination of stereotypes of the homeless. One has to wonder what the future is going to be like for those kids. Some, like Renee Holmes’s daughters, will rebound; others, like the homeless student who graduated at the top of her class, will beat the odds. Without a stable place to call home, others may fall through the cracks.

Andrée Tremoulet is a community development practitioner and doctoral candidate in Urban Studies at Portland State University. Elizabeth Mylott is a Ph.D. student in Urban Studies at Portland State University.

Indicators: Community College Access

Community colleges offer accessible high school completion programs (GEDs and high school diplomas), post-secondary certificates and 2-year associate degrees, job training, and continuing education opportunities to our region’s residents. When compared with the academic year full-time undergraduate in-state tuitions at the two local public undergraduate universities (Portland State University and Washington State University, Vancouver), community college tuitions are about half of the cost. Yearly tuitions at our community colleges for academic year 2013-2014, at approximately $4,000, were less than a tenth of some of the region’s elite private institutions such as Lewis and Clark College and Reed ($41,928 and $46,010 respectively)(National Center for Education Statistics).

Not surprisingly, given the broad range of ages and purposes that community colleges serve, Clackamas, Clark, Mt. Hood, and Portland community colleges enrolled nearly 64,000 students in fall of 2012. While their unique portfolio of programs make them difficult to compare with public universities, that number represents nearly three times the undergraduate enrollment of Portland State University, the state’s largest 4-year university.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most of the associates degrees granted in all of our community colleges (in 2012-2013) were in liberal arts and sciences, with health professions and business related majors vying for second place. Engineering and engineering technology ranked third. The category of “Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services,” while not offered everywhere represented a significant number (at 96) of associates degrees awarded at Portland Community College in 2012-2013.

Training for Change

An Interview with Dr. Jeremy Brown, President, PCC

When Portland Community College’s board of directors announced its choice for its next leader one year ago, it described Dr. Jeremy Brown (who has a doctorate in physics) as “a collaborative leader skilled at creating strong internal and external relationships” and a “polished communicator who is insightful and inclusive; a quick learner talented at navigating new environments with new players…” IMS director, Sheila Martin explores with Dr. Brown his vision for PCC’s future.

Dr. Jeremy Brown,
 President, PCC

Sheila Martin: You started at PCC about a year ago. What attracted you to the job?

Dr. Jeremy Brown: It’s exciting to think about PCC on many different levels. On the national level, forty-five percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. go to community colleges. So community colleges have a huge impact on the lives of many of our students. PCC is the 19th largest community college in the nation, in terms of head count of numbers of students. On the state level, PCC is dealing with issues that the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) has brought to the attention of policymakers. And, of course, funding for higher education is first and foremost in our minds on most days.

As the largest institution of higher education in the state, we believe that we have a significant responsibility to play a leading role in providing information and feedback on directions that we might wish to take. And some really exciting and creative ideas are coming up. Obviously on the local scale, PCC has a tremendous impact in our community. It’s been amazing to go out into the community and talk with people and hear so many positive stories and to realize how much we’re held in high esteem by people in the community.

Before I arrived we ran a survey. Two-thirds of the households said that one or more family members had taken a class at PCC, which is just enormous. Eighty-five percent of folks said that they would recommend PCC to somebody else. So we’re starting from a great position. My predecessor really did a terrific job. It’s a very fundamentally sound institution. But it also has great aspirations. So all those things put together make for a really great institution at a fascinating time, locally, regionally, and nationally. And of course, Portland’s just a fantastic place to live, and having a five-year old son who really enjoys the outdoors, we’re having a great time.

SM: How does PCC meet the challenge of developing programs that prepare students for the jobs that are going to be created in the future?

JB: That’s an easy question, or a difficult question, whichever way you want to think about it. We have to prepare students to get a job immediately after they graduate. But sometimes they leave us early because they get a job offer, and we’ve in essence met their needs, but they’ll still hopefully come back and finish that degree. We also want them to think of education as a lifetime pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement.

We also have to recognize that we’re training students not just for today’s jobs but for tomorrow’s jobs, and even jobs five years from now–jobs that don’t yet exist. We have to rely on many sources of information and guidance.

Sometimes it’s not just the “book skills” that we have to work on, it’s also those soft skills.

Sometimes it’s not just the “book skills” that we have to work on, it’s also those soft skills. So as graduates change jobs, or change careers, then they rely less and less on what they learned in the classroom or in the lab, or the shop so to speak, and more and more on those soft skills that they may learn outside of the classroom. The important question is, how do we then bring that into the classroom?

We’re seeing more and more employers who think carefully about the people that they hire. They may have the requisite skills, but do they have the right approach and understanding of what it takes to be employed in the workforce? That’s something that we think about on a regular basis.

The other thing that really helps us a lot is having advisory boards for our academic programs. These boards represent those folks who are out there in the business sector, and who come back to us on a regular basis and talk about our recent graduates. The let us know what skills they see in our graduates that they really like, and what skills perhaps we need to emphasize more within our curriculum. So we can be quite dynamic in changing our curriculum to meet those needs. Then, of course, we ask them the familiar questions. What skills will students need two years from now? For example, we’re seeing right now, and I’m hearing from several quarters, that there’s a tremendous need for millwrights. Currently we don’t have a program in millwrights, so we’re looking at that carefully.

PCC Cascade

SM: That’s a specific technical skill that people are looking for. Is there a predominant type of soft skill that the employers are looking for in graduates?

JB: I think a lot of the time it’s the problem solving side of things. What happens in the workforce when you encounter a problem that wasn’t in the textbook, or that the instructor didn’t cover in the welding labs? Can the student or graduate think critically in order to discover creative ways of solving it?

We want our graduates to have the confidence to overcome whatever challenges are put in their way, both in their professional as well as personal lives. So, I think problem solving is an important soft skill. And, of course, we also emphasize leadership, teamwork, time management, and others.

SM: PCC traditionally has been an important path to high school graduation for students who haven’t been successful in the traditional path. What is your view about the future of that role for PCC?

JB: There are several angles to answering that. For those students who are currently in high school, what can we do to assist the high schools in helping them finish? Additionally, what can we do to help those students who dropped out of high school, and who, after years have gone by, realize that they need to get some adult basic education, or a GED?

Focusing on the latter, we do provide adult basic education to about 4,300 people each year. We provide a doorway for those students to get that skill, and to get that diploma that will lead them to other accomplishments. We also recognize that for some of those students, the amount that we charge for the program is expensive. So we provide some scholarships, and we also provide students with some money towards PCC tuition once they’ve completed a certain number of hours in the adult basic education program.

For students who are currently attending high school, we offer many different options. Obviously, we have a lot of dual credit programs with a large number of schools within our district. We have more than 5,300 high school students taking dual credit classes with us on an annual basis.

We have more than 5,300 high school students taking dual credit classes with us on an annual basis.

That’s a huge number. We’re also providing students with the opportunity to see what college would be like. They start thinking, “I’m taking a college level class. I’m going to get college credit for this, and I’m still in high school, so maybe college is for me after all.” In cases such as the Jefferson Middle College Program, students attend classes on a college campus and begin feeling comfortable in the higher ed environment, so that when they’re about to graduate from high school, the thought of “going to college” isn’t as intimidating as it might otherwise be.

The Future Connect Program is another option that really is changing people’s lives in myriad ways. It’s designed to help low-income and first-generation high school students get on the path toward college by offering career counseling, academic and personal advising, and some scholarship money.

The students themselves have some spectacular stories of opportunity taken and success accomplished. Perhaps their parents didn’t speak English. Perhaps their parents thought that the student’s chance of going to college was limited by the expense. So if the student gets to go to college for free, and is still living at home, and able to get some work that contributes to the family economy, then we’re building bridges to folks who never thought college was an option. And at the end of the day, people run out of reasons not to go to college.

SM: More generally, what role do you see for PCC in meeting the state’s 40-40-20 goals—the idea that all Oregon adults will hold a high school diploma or a GED, that 40% will hold an associate’s degree or higher ed certificate, and that another 40% will hold a baccalaureate or higher degree, all by the year 2025? Some observers consider this an audacious vision.

JB: I’m a big fan of audacious goals. When we think about 40-40-20, clearly we have a role to play in the first 20 percent, as we’ve just discussed, on the high school graduation and the GED side of things. And we obviously play a significant role in the middle 40, by offering two-year certificate programs, two-year associate degrees, and workforce training. On the other 40, the four-year degree side of things, we have an ever-increasing number of students who see the value of starting at community college and then transferring to a four-year institution. They realize that two years at a community college is a whole lot less expensive than two years at a four-year institution. And they are close to home—perhaps living at home. And also they are making a transition from being in high school to being in an institute of post-secondary, higher education. Sometimes that transition is too much too soon and some people struggle in their first term as an undergraduate. Getting used to living in a dorm, making a whole new set of friends, and facing a different set of classroom expectations can be daunting all at once. We’re taking away at least half of that, if not more, if they’ve also spent time with us taking dual credit classes in high school. At last count, we had more than 4,200 students who went from PCC to Portland State, for example, in one year. We had nearly 800 who went to Oregon State and more than 400 who went to University of Oregon. So, we are providing that pathway to students. I think that community colleges play a really crucial role in this 40-40-20 goal, and we’re committed to ensuring that we do our part in that.

SM: PCC’s partnership with PSU is critically important because so many of the students that we serve wouldn’t be able to attend PSU if they didn’t take advantage of the financial benefit of attending community college for their first two years.

JB: If I remember correctly, forty percent of PSU’s recent graduating class had taken classes at PCC. So it is a great partnership, and we really value that. And of course, a lot of the times students who transfer have already taken college classes, so they’re used to college credit. They recognize that the courses that they take transfer in, so the rigor is comparable. So when they do transfer, then they’re very well prepared to be successful.

SM: I want to talk a little bit now about your relationship with the neighborhoods in which your campuses are located. How do you think PCC’s presence affects those neighborhoods?

JB: You know, one of the things that I’m really struck by when I visit the various campuses, the three campuses—Cascade in Portland, Sylvania near Tigard and Lake Oswego, Rock Creek in Hillsboro—and the new Southeast Center in Portland, is the amount of construction that’s going on. In 2008 we passed a bond for 374 million dollars, which at the time was the largest bond in the state of Oregon. It was the height of the recession, and yet we passed that. It’s been interesting, because other community colleges have struggled, from what I understand, to have bonds passed within their districts. I attribute our success to reaching out to our communities from the beginning and getting them involved in the process.

I was out at the Cascade campus this morning on Killingsworth, talking to those folks about what we need to do, and what we’d like to do, and asking them, how does this work for you as a member of our community?Parking is a huge issue, obviously. And so we built underground parking.

Parking is a huge issue [at the Cascade campus], obviously. And so we built underground parking.

We assuaged the fears that local folks may have that we’d be parking on the streets. And we actually do a pretty good job of discouraging our students from parking in the neighborhoods immediately around our campus. So that has gone remarkably well for us.

The Southeast Center on 82nd and Division officially opened two new buildings, which essentially doubled the size of instructional space in that area. I think that’s going to have a huge impact for that community. Not only do we have a first-class dedicated library for that campus but we also we have a coffee shop, and retail spaces on the front side of some of our buildings. We are starting to integrate and
be part of the community, while remaining an institution of higher education.

We really want PCC to be a part of the larger community. I always say that we are a community college, which means we are a college full of community. So we want our neighbors in the larger community to be a part of the things that we do, and to realize that the events that we hold on campus are for them too, that we reach out and invite them to be part of campus life. We don’t think of ourselves as an ivory tower. We think of ourselves as a commons where people come for intellectual dialogue, to enrich their culture, as well as also being an inviting, open space for people to be.

We’ve also done some remarkable things in terms of working with the community and local law enforcement to make our communities much safer. We’ve received many kudos for doing things like that. All of these efforts are important. But the key elements are to engage the community early in the planning process, and to have them become champions of what we’re trying to accomplish.

PCC Slyvania

SM: What has surprised you the most about this community?

JB: Well, my wife and five-year-old have been impressed by the warmth of the welcome we’ve received in this community. And you know, we talk about Oregon being nice, but this is way over being nice and so it’s been great. And, again, it goes back to how people perceive PCC. They understand that having an institution like PCC in their backyard, so to speak, is a tremendous benefit. People here in the district are just amazing in terms of the support they give to the arts, to culture, to a whole variety of different things, and to education. Not that I’ve been surprised by that, but I applaud it. It makes it a great place to live.

I’ve worked at some places before where emails from students have typically talked about the faculty in not so glowing terms. And here, I would say that probably if you were to take ten emails that I get from students, nine of then will be saying how great our faculty are. And you think for every nine people who take the time to write something positive about a faculty member, there’s probably another ten people who felt that way but just didn’t write.

Students and people who go to PCC say, “I feel like I get this individual attention, that they know who I am, they understand my issues and they help me solve them,” rather than saying, “Oh, I’m just one of 90,000 people who stands in a long line and gets to the front of the line and then has to go back to the line because I forgot a piece of paper.” We don’t have lines, which I’m just totally amazed by. Students seem to be very satisfied with the service we provide.

SM: It sounds like you’ve taken a page from the business community in terms of having a customer-focused model for how you’re running your organization.

JB: I think of the relationship between customer service and customer loyalty. And I like to think about customer loyalty. So if somebody had a choice, would they stay with us out of loyalty rather than just because we’re here and it’s convenient. That’s where customer service comes in—it promotes loyalty. I really think we’re developing an environment where our customers are loyal to us.

Metroscape, Summer 2014