(Update: Adding video, comments from COCC's president and vice president)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A recent audit from the Oregon Secretary of State's Office points to "substantial deficits" at the state's 17 community colleges, ones that Central Oregon Community College officials are taking seriously.
COCC officials said the audit is designed to provide Oregon lawmakers guidance on how to allocate resources for community colleges. The audit calls for more support for students, to help them succeed.
COCC President Dr. Laurie Chesley said Tuesday, "It is a successor audit done to the first audit done in 2015, and one of the things this audit notes is that the community colleges in the state have made significant improvements in a number of areas related to student success."
The Secretary of State's Office is urging the Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission and state leaders to focus more heavily on student performance at community colleges.
"There's more work to be done, and it suggests ways that student success outcomes and long-term sustainability community colleges can be enhanced," Chesley added.
Since the pandemic, she said, while enrollment at Oregon community colleges in general have declined, COCC has seen some recovery, with flat figures last spring and summer terms and an increase of just under 1% last fall.
"The good news out of that is in the spring and the summer terms here at the college, our enrollment has been flat," Chesley said. "So we've seen a leveling off, which is a good sign."
COCC reported a total head count of 10,893 students for 2021-22, with a total full-time equivalent (FTE) of 3,546. That compares to the last full pre-pandemic year of 2018-19, when the college had a total head count of 14,522 students and total FTE of 4,479.
Oregon community colleges consistently rank well below others nationally, according to the Secretary of State's audit. From 2016 to 2019, COCC ranked 35th for completion and transfer rates.
"One of the key focus points of this report is the need for transparency, accountability and long-term financial sustainability," Chesley said.
The COCC campus leaders agree the audit findings are not a surprise and say they know there's work to be done at the legislative level as well.
COCC Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Alicia Moore said, "Community college is such a vital part of our communities. But providing the workforce skills that people need to get a family-wage job, earn a good living, have opportunities for advancement -- it really is the backbone of all our communities."
The audit also recommends a better, more guided direction for Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission.