The Oregon Senate voted unanimously last Tuesday, February 19 to approve Senate Bill 3, a proposal to allow Oregon’s 17 community colleges to offer both applied baccalaureate degrees (two-year extension programs for associate’s degrees) and four-year bachelor’s degrees. Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), who is sponsoring the bill, said SB 3 is “a small bill, but a huge bill,” that could reshape higher education in Oregon.
Senator Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) echoed Sen. Courtney’s point that empowering communities to make decisions about their education needs as well as closing the gap between education at community colleges versus four-year universities could be the beginnings of a “revolution” in higher education. Twenty-four other states have passed similar allowances for community colleges.
The goal of the bill is to create a process for community colleges, which currently have about 270,000 students statewide, to develop new programs by getting input from their community about employment needs and designing programs to fill those needs. Any new degree programs must be approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, a board which advises the governor, the legislature, and other officials on higher education (or post-secondary education) policy.
The fine details of how these programs would be integrated is still unclear, but Linn-Benton Community College President Greg Hamann estimated the process for approving a new program could take about a year. Hamann said LBCC isn’t necessarily going to jump into this new model, expressing that they “see the opportunities, but also have questions about it.”
The bill is now headed to the House for deliberation and a vote.
-By Ian MacRonald