SALEM — A bill in the Oregon Legislature to allow mergers between state universities and community colleges drew opposition from universities during a hearing in the bill before the Senate Education Committee.
According to a fact sheet on Senate Bill 4, any proposal for a merger between a university and community college would have to be submitted the Higher Education Coordinating Commission for approval. If it approved a merger the commission would then have to submit a report to the Legislature.
Mergers would be entirely voluntary, could not be forced, and could only happen if officials of both institutions involved agree to it.
In his testimony before the committee, Senate President Peter Courtney, sponsor of the bill, said a college merger would save students and colleges money. This would be done by merging administrative functions, promoting smoother transition from community college to the university, and providing more flexibility for students and giving them more options.
“Our education system has got to change if it is truly going to serve the student,” Courtney said. “All students should be encouraged to reach their full potential and be supported on whatever path they choose. If they go straight from high school, to a four-year [institution] they should be able to afford it. If they transfer from a community college, they shouldn’t lose their credits. If they return to school as adults they should have evening and weekend classes available.”
In response, David McDonald, with Western Oregon University and speaking for all seven state universities, said, “The fact that there is a concern that an Oregon community college or university may someday need to consider a merger should be alarming.
“We thank Sen. Courtney for shining a light on the reality that decades of disinvestment by the state has created the fiscal environment where Oregon’s primary engine for social mobility and social justice is now imperiled,” McDonald continued.
“SB-4 attempts to treat the symptom of the much larger and malignant problem of sustained under-funding of higher education in Oregon,” he said.
“While merging schools, could be an option, the Oregon economy and communities from the coast to the Snake River and from Mount Hood to Mount Ashland are best served by having strong and well-funded colleges and universities,” McDonald said.
When asked about Treasure valley Community ‘College’s position on the merger bill, President Dana Young issued these comments by email:
We are not necessarily opposed, as we always support opportunities for efficiencies and cost-savings, but would rather see community colleges remain intact and stay focused on their specific and unique mission. If merged, the missions would have to be clearly defined and local boards would need to be retained to ensure we meet local needs. There is great risk for underserved populations to be left out if not implemented correctly.”
At this time there is no further action scheduled on the bill.