SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) — Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and state leaders must focus more urgently on student performance at community colleges, student support, and the colleges’ financial stability amid persistent enrollment declines, according to an audit released Monday by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
“Education helped me break the cycle of poverty in my family,” said Secretary Fagan. “Our community colleges are important gateways for students from lower-income families, for older and rural students, for working parents, for workers needing retraining. They are also crucial for Oregon’s economy. State leaders need to focus on them now more than ever.”
The audit found improvements in key areas since HECC began overseeing Oregon’s 17 community colleges in 2015, including improved student performance and increased financial aid for students.
Auditors also found substantial deficits. Oregon’s community college student performance still lags behind other states and equity gaps in student performance persist. Accountability, effective public reporting of student results, and use of data to drive improvement are all limited.
The audit says crucial student support services are inadequately monitored and supported. State financial aid still has substantial gaps and an inequitable design. Monitoring of college stability is minimal, despite declining finances and enrollment drops that outpace the nation.
The audit includes five recommendations to HECC. It also recommends that the governor and Legislature provide HECC with greater direction and authority, and that state leaders increase HECC and college staff in key areas as needed to help address the substantial risks the colleges face.
As a coordinating agency with limited statutory authority, HECC cannot force colleges to make operational changes. Locally elected college boards are responsible for college operations. Instead, HECC’s role includes monitoring the system’s performance, reporting quality information on how the system is doing, and working with the colleges and state leaders to address problems that arise. HECC can take steps to improve in this role immediately, but also needs stronger support from state leaders to be more effective in spotlighting problems and providing solutions.
HECC is the statewide agency over community colleges, public universities and private colleges. The audit focused on its role with community colleges and their roughly 125,000 for-credit students. The state spent $700 million in the 2021-23 biennium to support community college operations. For 2023-25, HECC is requesting substantial increases in community college operations and financial aid funding. It is also requesting additional funding to help colleges and universities better serve students from underserved groups, such as students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and students from historically underserved races and ethnicities.
Read the full audit, “Oregon Must Improve Community College Performance, Student Support, and Sustainability Amid Persistent Enrollment Declines,” on the Secretary of State website: https://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2022-35.pdf