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Oregon Colleges Urge Collaboration for Future of Higher Ed

Officials from Southern Oregon University, the Oregon Institute of Technology and Rogue Community College say higher education institutions must interact and work with communities to meet changes in regional economies.

(TNS) — Representatives from Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Institute of Technology convened last week with members of the community to talk about "the challenges and successes of higher education."

The conversations, derived in part from a team of researchers with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), will be used, according to a press release, to form a "comprehensive higher education landscape map" to help everyone from lawmakers to post-secondary learning consultants make decisions on "effective future planning and pathways."

These details come from a release from RCC, which announced the May 2 meeting, held at the SOU/RCC Higher Education Center. The event was "a research study being conducted by state organizations," according to Julie Raefield, public information officer for RCC.

In the release, RCC President Cathy Kemper-Pelle called the meeting an "outstanding opportunity to discuss the intersections between education, employment and student challenges."

"This forum explored meaningful topics for planning, legislative advocacy, and local action," she said. "I truly appreciate the broad participation by all constituents in this important dialogue."

That dialogue occurred in two ways. One was via NCHEMS researchers, who "posed in-depth questions" to event participants on "the higher education efforts underway" at RCC, SOU and OIT.

After that, roundtable discussions took place regarding changes to regional economies and "what changes need to be made in higher education to address those changes," according to the release.

Brian Prescott, vice president for NCHEMS, said what his organization did in Medford is related to what it is doing throughout Oregon, gathering input from several groups related to the way in which public postsecondary education is organized, funded, and otherwise operated to meet state and student needs and to reduce equity.

"We intentionally traveled through the state to try to better appreciate regional differences so that anything that goes forward reflects those differences," Prescott wrote in an email.

SOU President Rick Bailey, who is a newcomer to the state and has only been in office since January, was supportive of the effort.

"In my opinion and in my experience in higher education, I can say with confidence that every single good thing and every single success that we've enjoyed came because we've partnered with someone else," Bailey said. "To me, all of the challenges and things that we all are facing, the answer has to be collaboration."

The new SOU president said he learned as much from hearing his higher education counterparts as he did from NCHEMS representatives

"The take-away for me ... is there's a real opportunity in how we as institutions communicate with prospective students, particularly those under-represented in higher education — and that involves a careful exploration of the current bureaucracy that exists between stakeholders," Bailey said. "When we can navigate that — and even alter it — in ways that improve communication, we can do incredible things together."

Representatives from regional social service organizations and K-12 superintendents, such as Medford's Brent Champion, attended and spoke at the conference.

"I'm a big believer that our systems are stronger when we are aligned together, and so, I wanted to offer my voice and support," Champion said. "We're always looking for ways to strengthen our partnerships across the valley."

Champion noted the RCC, SOU, OIT event was different from most conferences he has attended, particularly because it had a focus group component, in which he participated.

"The folks in the focus group just talked about the specific needs in our community. We have a need for diesel mechanics; we have a need for surgery technicians; we have a need for nurses; a need for teachers — there were no surprises in that," the superintendent said. "This is something we have been working on as a community for some time."

Champion shared with the focus group that students who take dual-enrollment courses in high school that aren't guaranteed to be recognized all over Oregon because the state's higher education institutions might have different course numbers for some courses.

"It doesn't align and makes things more complicated," Champion said. "I use that as a very simple example that if we can get those things in alignment, how much more powerful it will be for our students to make choices across the state."

"I always appreciate what the community needs are — that's critical for us in the Medford School District," Champion said. "The great news is, we have our ears to the ground regularly, so there were no surprises. Still, it's nice to know."

Representatives and CEOs from sectors ranging from regional healthcare to manufacturing were among the over 100 participants in attendance.

©2022 the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.