Brand Story – Southern Oregon schools collaborate to benefit students and region.
An idea emerged not quite two years ago, over lunch at an inn about halfway between Klamath Falls and Ashland: Southern Oregon’s public colleges and universities could join forces to tackle some of the region’s most vexing higher education issues.
The presidents of Rogue Community College, Klamath Community College, Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology envisioned a partnership that would put their region’s students and communities first. They reasoned that complex problems – such as a workforce inadequately prepared for careers of the present and future – are best solved from a united front of invested stakeholders.
That lunchtime conversation laid the groundwork for the Southern Oregon Higher Education Consortium, which was launched last November with announcements in Klamath Falls and Medford. The first-of-its-kind alliance of Oregon colleges and universities has already led to initial agreements and efforts to streamline students’ educational pathways and address Southern Oregon’s specific workforce needs.
The consortium is considered a pioneering step toward preparing students and workforce members in the region for a rapidly changing future. It has been endorsed by state officials including the governor and the chair of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
“Our institutions’ history of cooperation has served as an excellent jumping-off point for a future of seamless pathways, interwoven academics and collective strength,” SOU President Linda Schott said.
Creation of the consortium has led to regular communication between counterpart departments at the four institutions, and to concrete steps to strengthen transfer agreements between the schools and coordinate curriculum, academic programs and new initiatives.
“We are so committed to this work that our four institutions will jointly fund student success support mechanisms, gaining momentum by combining limited budgets,” KCC President Roberto Gutierrez said. “The future of our schools, and ultimately the success of our students, will be brighter when fewer barriers to education exist.”
Academic and enrollment management leaders from the consortium met separately this summer to work out details of various initiatives. The academic and curriculum discussions ranged from stand-alone certificates to 2+2(+2) programs that allow students to progress from associate to bachelor’s to master’s degrees. Topics for the enrollment management group included degree-completion efforts and programs that allow students who have transferred from community college to a university before earning their two-year associate degrees to simultaneously complete them while working toward four-year bachelor’s degrees.
“The positive response by Southern Oregon business leaders to this higher education partnership has been very exciting,” said RCC President Cathy Kemper-Pelle. “It clearly illustrates that we are addressing a real need to prepare our regional workforce through collaborative alignment of educational pathways and student support services.”
Consortium partners were recently honored with a “Collaboration Award” and recognized for their regional influence at the annual meeting of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. Combined, the four colleges and universities serve more than 26,000 students each year in about 200 degree programs and more than 100 certificate or apprenticeship programs. They annually produce more than 3,300 graduates with knowledge and skills that lead to successful, meaningful careers throughout the region and the state.
Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan summarized the collaboration’s potential: “Our students, industry and business partners, and communities all benefit from our collective voice for southern Oregon – a vibrant consortium of action, focused on education, workforce and regional economy.”
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