A bill signed into law Tuesday at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus by Gov. John Kitzhaber could have far-reaching effects for a number of Oregon students, for community colleges around the state and for businesses looking to hire skilled HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Gov. John Kitzhaber signs Senate Bill 1524

Senate Bill 1524 directs the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission — an advisory group to the Oregon Education Investment Board, the Legislature and the governor — to look at the viability of making community college free to students who graduate from high school.

“It’s become painfully obvious that without a secondary education, there is no path to the middle class,” said Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton), chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development.

Hass is convinced this is the direction to take to make higher education more accessible to more students.

“Community college is the best value in education today,” Hass said.

The Higher Education Coordinating Commission will look at many factors in determining the feasibility of such a program, such as the anticipated number of students who will participate in the program; the anticipated annual costs and sources of funding; and the current capacity at community colleges around the HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Century High 2013 graduate and current PCC Future Connect Student Sara Agoot speaks about her path to higher education.

“There’s a lot of data out there on the costs not to do this,” Hass said. He cited studies on the number of “idle youth” — 18- to 24-year-olds who “have no marketable skills and no job.”

“Let’s make these youth marketable and productive, [otherwise] they become quite a burden on society,” Hass said.

Hass acknowledged that Portland Community College is growing rapidly, but there are many options for getting more students into post-secondary programs.

“Capacity is one of the issues,” Hass said. “There are thousands of questions, but we can do this. Nothing is insurmountable here.”

The commission will submit its report to the legislative committees on education by Sept. 30.

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