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Future Connect scholarships are critical tools

The number of economically disadvantaged students is on the rise in Washington County, and their pathway to obtaining college degrees is getting much more difficult to travel. It’s time we tackled the issue head on.

As the state and Gov. John Kitzhaber focus on achieving his “40-40-20” objective (by 2025, 40 percent of the state’s adults should have four-year degrees, 40 percent two-year degrees or postsecondary training and 20 percent high school diplomas), it’s clear that in order to reach this goal more needs to be done to assist students who may not have the resources or know-how to complete college.Madden

Around 40 percent of Beaverton’s students are from economically challenged households, and the benefits of a college education are increasingly out of reach for them. According to the Oregon Department of Education, 60 percent of economically disadvantaged students from the 2010 class in the Beaverton School District graduated from high school. That’s compared to a rate of 76 percent for the entire district population and 85 percent for non-economically disadvantaged students.

It’s not that they are not capable of going to college, but there are economic and social barriers that prevent them from enrolling and completing college. In Washington County, 45 percent of the high school class from 2009-10 did not attend college. Nearly six out of 10 Washington County high school graduates eligible for free and reduced lunch did not go to college after finishing high school. Similarly, two out of five Washington County high school graduates of color did not pursue postsecondary education.

These sorts of trends threaten our region’s economic strength and vitality, which depend on educating a trained and talented pool of diverse workers. Washington County is home to some of the world’s top companies. It serves as the state’s economic engine, attracting investment from industries across the globe, and providing thousands of quality jobs to a highly-skilled workforce. Companies like mine depend on the pipeline of high-skilled workers.

By the end of this decade, more than 60 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education. Four-fifths of jobs paying $50,000 or more will require at least a bachelor’s degree to be competitive. The educational attainment of Washington County’s residents is directly related to economic prosperity — a well-educated workforce is critical for high-wage, high-skilled jobs.

Portland Community College has always been responsive to our region’s workforce training needs, and its Future Connect Scholarship program is no exception. Future Connect is a highly successful program that provides low-income and first-generation college students with financial support and student services that are proven to increase student retention and completion rates. Local cities supply half the funding, while the college and the PCC Foundation match their investment dollar for dollar.

The program began in 2011 with financial support from the city of Portland, and more than $1 million has been raised to fund the first four cohorts of Future Connect scholars through 2014-15. This equates to scholarships and services for 744 Multnomah County students to attend PCC. This means they receive two years of individualized academic advising and personalized coaching to help them succeed in class, navigate unfamiliar college resources, overcome barriers to stay in school and prepare for a career or transfer to a university. As a result, Future Connect scholars are being retained in college at a rate three times that of first-generation college students who do not receive these services.

This March, the Hillsboro City Council voted to allocate $100,000 to Future Connect, which will enable the program to enroll 50 Hillsboro students this fall. The Beaverton City Council followed suit in May with a $50,000 allocation and is now considering an additional $50,000 in the city’s 2013-14 budget to enable the college to bring in 50 Future Connect students from Beaverton.

Like most cities, Beaverton faces its share of difficult budget decisions, but this isn’t one of them. The time to invest in our city’s future is now.

Beaverton high school graduates, parents, and business and industry leaders need Future Connect to ensure the pipeline of skilled workers remains robust. The program leverages significant private and public sector funds on top of the city’s commitment. Future Connect is one tool we can use to help ensure students who otherwise wouldn’t go to college earn a degree or certificate. This will not only increase college degree attainment in Oregon and meet the governor’s goals, but invigorate our local economy and our community. I hope Beaverton will join Portland and Hillsboro, and ensure our young people have the same chance at prosperity. Their success will be ours.

Ken Madden is the owner of Madden Industrial Craftsman and Madden Fabrication and has served on Portland Community College’s Foundation board since 2003. He was recently elected to the PCC Board of Directors.



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