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PCC leader looks beyond textbooks

Jeremy Brown hopes to overcome state funding challenges


by: COURTESY OF PCC - Jeremy Brown became Portland Community Colleges sixth president on Oct. 30. He sees some challenges ahead for the states largest post-secondary insitution, but is optimistic that the school can continue to change lives.Four months into the job as Portland Community College president, Jeremy Brown has a joke he often tells as he makes the circuit: “College presidents sleep like a baby. They wake up screaming every hour of the night.”

The 55-year-old England native, formally installed into office as the college’s sixth president on Oct. 30, has been getting to know Portland after working on the East Coast since 1984, except for a three-year stint in Panama. “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised” with the city, he told the Tribune editorial board last week.

Brown walks into the job at a time when he acknowledges there is a great amount of scrutiny of higher education. “What is the value of going to college?” he asks. “What is it we’re actually about?”

His response: PCC is different than other institutions, because of the breadth of offerings — everything from a one-year certificate to a two-year degree, dual-credit programs, GED programs and workforce development.

“We want to think of ourselves as training someone to think beyond the textbook, beyond the labs,” he says.

Brown says part of his goal is to educate people about the opportunities PCC offers at its ever-expanding campuses.

The Rock Creek Campus, Sylvan Campus, Cascade Campus and the Southeast Center (soon to be upgraded to a “campus”) are growing in capacity thanks to the voter-approved bond measure in 2008. Jefferson High School’s “Middle College” partnership with the Cascade Campus across the street on North Killingsworth has been successful, Brown says. Freshman attendance has shot up from 46 percent to 94 percent from 2009 to 2012.

This fall, every student to graduate from Jefferson will be required to have taken a minimum of 12 credits of college coursework, level 100 or higher. Until now this has been optional.

“We’re changing people’s lives,” Brown says. “Can we take it to other school districts?”

PCC has increased its enrollment by 40 percent in the last five years, but funding from the state has decreased, Brown says.

Yet he feels the weight of the Oregon Legislature’s 40/40/20 goal: By 2025 all adult Oregonians will hold a high school diploma or equivalent, 40 percent will have an associate’s degree or a meaningful postsecondary certificate, and 40 percent will hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

“It’s a huge responsibility; we need the funding,” Brown says. “We clearly need to make a better case to the Legislature about state funding, and how Oregon compares to other states.”

Brown says he’s been trying to rally local companies as college partners in the career-technical education programs and other areas.

He’s been talking with leaders at Portland Public Schools about how to boost their career-technical education programs. Brown says he’s discussed helping them fill part of the day for high school seniors who want on-the-job learning experiences.

But PPS has said they’re still looking at what facility space they have available, since the major construction bond work will begin soon.

“We can talk till the cows come home; I’d rather see something happen,” Brown says.

The biggest challenge, Brown says, is to try to predict what the PCC system will look like in 10 years.

“We’re in really exponentially changing times,” he says. “What will my mark (on the system) be? I get asked that a lot. It’s not my mark, my vision. It’s our collective efforts that will move us forward.”