State's largest post-secondary institution ready to meet community's needs

The end of last month marked a milestone for me, personally, as I was officially invested as the sixth president of Portland Community College.

But the celebration on Oct. 30 really wasn’t about me. Rather, it was the chance to acknowledge a remarkable college made up of remarkable people working in concert with a remarkable community: a college on the cusp of beginning a new chapter in its history.

I’ve been asked quite often about what I’ve been up to since arriving in July. I’ve been busy — and have welcomed every minute of it.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit with faculty, staff and students throughout the college and actively listen, observe and ask questions. I’ve also met with many external community leaders, to soak up as much information as I can about PCC’s role in higher education and the challenges and opportunities ahead for the institution.

I’ve observed that one of PCC’s strongest assets is its people — the faculty and staff who are committed and dedicated to our students — as well as our community, education and business partners, and our philanthropic partners, whose support and collaboration helps students achieve their educational goals.

I’m from England originally and have spent most of my professional life at schools on the East Coast as both a physics professor and an academic administrator. So naturally, since moving to Portland, I’ve been asked many times — why did I decide to come to Portland Community College?

Let’s start with the big picture: that of community colleges. Higher education overall is under intense scrutiny to demonstrate value, to meet the growing needs of the local and national economy with decreased public resources. Simultaneously, due to our ailing economy, we find more students seeking additional credentials, training or re-training, and affordability.

Community colleges are uniquely suited to meet the needs of students, businesses and the nation during these challenging times. In fact, nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States are enrolled in community colleges.

Simply put, community colleges are where the action is. And I believe there is no other community college that has the capacity to meet these needs than PCC, Oregon’s largest post-secondary institution and among the top 20 largest community colleges in the country.

PCC students come from myriad backgrounds, with different learning styles and expectations, but with the same desire: to enrich their lives. Why did I decide to come to PCC? I came because it is an honor and a privilege to lead this great institution.

We are at a pivotal moment in PCC’s history. As more people look to the college as the primary route to achieving their educational and career goals, we have an opportunity — and the responsibility — to think creatively in ways we haven’t before. I’ve observed four topics as the most pressing for PCC:

• Maintaining access while increasing and redefining student success and completion.

• Enhancing PCC’s reputation for educational, business and community partnerships.

• Leading the state’s largest educational institution through Oregon’s educational reform process.

• Increasing public resources and private philanthropy to fulfill our mission.

How will we successfully address these?

First, with support from our board, the college is launching the development of a five-year strategic plan to enable PCC to chart its future in light of the transformation of Oregon’s higher education system. It will position the college to be an essential partner in regional economic development and a leading provider of work force training. It will set priorities, align resources and guide decision-making to ensure clarity of vision as we make PCC a premier community college for the 21st century.

Second, we must encourage a culture of leadership and innovation. To flourish in the increasingly competitive market of higher education, we will need to be entrepreneurial and take risks.

The college is uniquely positioned to be a pivotal player in advancing Oregon’s 40-40-20 goal: that by 2025, 40 percent of adult Oregonians will hold bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 40 percent will have associate degrees or postsecondary certificates, and all adult Oregonians will have obtained their high school diplomas or equivalent.

To accomplish this, PCC will strengthen and deepen relationships among many constituencies — legislators, alumni, businesses, community leaders and organizations, donors and students. We will coordinate and streamline connectivity between K-12, PCC and four-year institutions. Internally, we will question old paradigms of how best to educate students — harnessing the power of technology to meet the demands of the differing learning styles of our students while also becoming even more accessible.

We will assess what is working well, keep and expand those efforts, while also looking for new opportunities, researching model practices, and applying the best of them to our unique environment.

Finally, we will grow available resources to meet our mission of student access, affordability and success. This means increasing our public resources as well as private philanthropy; despite serving 45 percent of all undergraduates in the country, community colleges receive only 1 percent of all private philanthropy for higher education.

PCC has what it takes to overcome the challenges ahead. We have the talent, dedication and passion among our faculty, staff, students and the community at large to mobilize support for the college and higher education overall. The result? Our entire community benefits.

Jeremy Brown became the sixth president of Portland Community College on July 1. Brown, a native of Manchester, England, served as president of Dowling College on Long Island, N.Y., and of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He succeeded Dr. Preston Pulliams, who retired after 10 years as PCC president.

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