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A Busy Legislative Session

By Dr. Ross Tomlin, TBCC President

The new year has begun, and being an odd year means the Oregon State Legislature will have its long session to produce the state budget for the next two years. This budget will include our state allocation for the 17 community colleges, including TBCC. About 40% of our annual budget comes from this state allocation. The remainder of our budget comes from property taxes, student tuition, and fees.

Many new legislators are serving this year, which means building relationships. We will spend a lot of time during the session educating legislators on the needs of our colleges so we can continue to provide students with the programs and resources they need to meet their educational goals.

Besides budget needs for our colleges, there will be two additional priorities with the legislature. One is to increase the amount of money funded by the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG). Community Colleges will be asking the legislature to increase the allocation from $200M to $400M for the next two years. The OOG is Oregon’s largest and primary source of state need-based financial aid for college students of all ages. This financial increase would allow colleges to significantly raise the number of students funded to further their education. Statistics show that 30% of Oregon community college students are unable to meet expenses with expected resources, including grants and scholarships.

The second legislative priority for community colleges in this session is to receive approval to offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Two sessions ago, the legislature passed a law that allows community colleges to offer four-year Applied Baccalaureate degrees. We were hopeful this would include degrees in nursing, but it does not. There needs to be another law passed to specifically give community colleges the ability to offer the BSN degree. This is especially important for rural colleges like TBCC so local students who have become registered nurses with a two-year degree (TBCC is now working on getting approved to offer a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing) could then go on to earn a BSN without leaving the area. Our local legislators, along with our healthcare providers like Adventist Health Tillamook and Rinehart Clinic, are very supportive of us being able to offer this degree, especially with the huge need there is for more nurses in our state. Every county in Oregon has been designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area. The profession is recommending that 80% of practicing nurses have a BSN, and the state currently has barely over 50% at that level. A bill has already been submitted in the Senate to make this happen–SB 523. We will be following it closely through this session.

It will be a very busy and full legislative session this year, and dozens of other bills will be proposed that will affect community colleges in some way. The Oregon Community College Association (OCCA), which lobbies for us in the legislature, will be following those bills and working to educate legislators on the importance of these efforts to help colleges better serve our students. We will keep the community informed on the progress being made as the session continues.

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