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CGCC pursues tech center

Columbia Gorge Community College is seeking matching funds for $7.5 million from the state to construct an advanced technology center on the Hood River campus.

The center would provide a trained workforce for several high-tech firms in the gorge, according to Robb Van Cleave, chief operating officer.

He said Google in The Dalles and Insitu in Bingen, as well as its support companies in Hood River, will benefit from expansion in educational opportunities.

“Being independently accredited is allowing us to design programs at both campuses that meet the workforce needs of our area,” said Van Cleave.

The college is now looking for partners, such as private foundations, to match the funding obtained by Reps. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.

Van Cleave said the college brought on board a full-time computer science instructor this summer. The position, held by Robert Sutton, is funded by the college’s share of Google tax abatement funds.

“We’ve used the Google money ($75,000-100,000 each year) to build this program over the years,” said Van Cleave.

Sutton has spent the last few weeks working to develop technology curriculum for students during the 2014-15 academic year in what Van Cleave believes will become the third “signature” program at the college.

The two most comprehensive programs at this time are renewable energy and nursing.

The college is planning to incorporate the results of an employer survey conducted by the Gorge Technology Alliance into its development of new curriculum. The focus of the study was to identify skill sets and recruitment needs. The information gathered is being reviewed by Oregon State University for use in long-range strategy planning for the region.

Several years ago, the college received a similar amount of state funds that were matched with federal dollars to build classrooms in the Fort Dalles Readiness Center, which is home to Alpha Company of the Oregon National Guard. The bottom floor of the facility — built on the eastern edge of the campus — is dedicated to classroom and lab space for students in the field of renewable energy.

Sherman County has contributed $100,000 to outfit a welding lab at the center, which Van Cleave said will meet another community demand. He said equipment purchased with that money is now being set up and should be in operation soon.

The college also receives money for the renewable energy program from Caithness Energy, which is contributing $250,000 over a 10-year period, with two payments already made.

In other campus news, tuition rates at the college will remain the same for the 2014-15 academic year, the third without an increase.

The current cost to students is $89 per credit plus a $12 service fee.

“We are in the middle of the pack of Oregon’s 17 community colleges with our tuition,” said Lisa Deswert, chief financial officer.

She said it is uncertain at this time whether the college can keep tuition from going up next year since 47 percent of the general fund, which covers most operating expenses, comes from the state.

She said the legislature pared back funding for colleges to 2007 levels when the Great Recession began in 2009 and has not caught up with present needs.

The gorge college was allotted a 1.7 percent share of the $465 million in state funding for the current biennium, which is down from $500 million in 2007.

Deswert said 70 percent of the college’s general fund — $10.7 million in the upcoming year — is spent to cover personnel costs. Expenses are budgeted to rise slightly more than $100,000 in the upcoming year due to rising health care premiums, retirement expenses and overtime for 100 full-time employees. There are also 127 part-time faculty on the two campuses.

“If the state doesn’t give us more funding in the next biennium, we’ll have to make some choices about how to move forward,” said Deswert.

Van Cleave said Gov. John Kitzhaber has set some ambitious goals for the future of education in Oregon and the college is striving to do more to help students reach career goals with the funding it has.

Last year, the college invested more than $200,000 in three new positions to help with that goal.

The statewide focus on graduation rates at all levels of education is driven by Kitzhaber’s “40-40-20” plan. He has set a goal to make Oregon “one of the best educated citizenries in the world” by 2025. His plan is to have 40 percent of adults in the state earning at least a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent receiving an associate’s, or postsecondary certificate, and 20 percent obtaining at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

The gorge college, like other educational institutions across the state, must fulfill the conditions of an achievement compact to show that work is being done to reach the governor’s goal.

Outcome measures and guidelines are coordinated with the Oregon Department of Community College and Workforce Development. Although the local college has a graduate rate of 41.4 percent, officials would like to see about 10 more students have degrees or certificates each year to fulfill its role under the state plan.

Down the road, Van Cleave said the college wants to provide students with opportunities to earn a four-year degree, through collaboration with Oregon State University and others, without having to leave the gorge.

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