By Mike Van Meter
The first question at hand seems simple enough: The Oregon Legislature will be asked to pass rules allowing Central Oregon Community College to grant four-year degrees.
However, other questions about the "Cascadia Concept" proposed by COCC are far more difficult to answer. Some of them are:
Who would pay the estimated cost of $2 million a year -- and is the figure realistic? COCC has proposed receiving $1.2 million from the state and $800,000 through tuition to begin offering upper-division classes at COCC in two years.
Should COCC go beyond its traditional mission of a two-year community college and risk weakening its current programs? Would a hybrid institution offering both two-year and four-year degrees be successful?
How would Cascadia affect the Central Oregon University Center, which now coordinates bachelor's and master's degree programs from nine other institutions? Why not simply expand those existing opportunities?
Who would govern Cascadia? The state Board of Education and local boards oversee community colleges, while the Board of Higher Education supervises four-year colleges and universities.
More questions about Cascadia may be asked as a blue-ribbon panel of community leaders begins meeting this week to give advice to the COCC Foundation on how to present its overall vision of the future to philanthropists being asked to support the college. While college officials characterize Cascadia as a small part of that overall picture, the changes it represents may well dominate the discussion.
COCC will be asked to answer these questions before it gets any answers from the Legislature and higher education officials about its ambitious proposal.
"It's a far-reaching vision," said Dennis Luke, District 54 state representative from Bend. "The things they have to overcome are not that huge, but they have to address them -- and they probably have to address them this session."
COCC President Bob Barber thinks the institution is up to providing the answers.
"We think we're on track in terms of our time line," Barber said. He said any questions legislators and others have can be answered in time for passage of a bill.
Even the name "Cascadia," while purely Northwest in flavor, may be considered controversial. It's found in 1960s and '70s socialist/anarchist novels, but also has futuristic overtones -- it's the name of the proposed high-speed rail line connecting Oregon and British Columbia.
Those asking the questions aren't ruling out eventual support of COCC's vision -- as long as someone explains in which direction the tracks are going to go.
"We understand community colleges are in a unique position to be the conduit for a variety of educational opportunities," said Judy Stiegler, a Bend lawyer and chairwoman of the Oregon Board of Education. "The concerns come in the details; this is a board that wants answers before it gives its seal of approval."
By Mike Van Meter
Joseph Cox thinks Central Oregon Community College's dream of granting four-year degrees through its "Cascadia Concept" may be the wrong dream for the future of higher education in Central Oregon.
"I'm not sure Cascadia is the best vehicle for getting us there," said Cox, chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education. "By taking the longer-term, more-thoughtful approach and delaying our gratification a bit, we might be happier with the results."
A decade or so down the road, Cox thinks, Bend should be the base for the eighth state college in Oregon. He sees the Central Oregon University Center as the logical vehicle toward that end.
COCC President Bob Barber isn't as interested in 10 years from now as much as he is interested in today -- or the day in 2001 just more than four years from now when Cascadia -- if it wins support -- will offer its first bachelor's degrees.
"Ten years from now -- that's a long, long way away," Barber said.
By then, Barber said, it may well be possible for his and Cox's dreams to become true. Considering what has happened in Bend in the past 10 years, just about anything could happen. But the decade-away possibility of a separate, state-supported four-year institution, Barber said, doesn't meet the pressing realities of Central Oregon today.
Cascadia has been crafted with the notion of light up-front costs: No new buildings are proposed. The cost-per-student for upper-division expansion runs somewhere between that of colleges with a larger, broader mission and the lower cost of community colleges.
State Sen. Neil Bryant, the Bend Republican who will introduce legislation for COCC in the upcoming session, agrees expanded bachelor's and master's degree programs need to be offered in Bend soon.
"I think it's an idea that needs to continue," Bryant said. "We have a large population base where it's hard to get a degree -- there's a need, and I'd like to see programs expanded. This to me is the best approach I've heard."
Bryant's bill will grant COCC authority only to develop and request four-year degree programs. Final authority for granting bachelor's degrees in Oregon rests with the state Board of Higher Education.
"It's very important that the enabling legislation would allow us to approach the state Board of Higher Education for programs," said COCC President Bob Barber. "It allows us to propose the type of program that we'd like to offer."
Cox and others worry that Cascadia may weaken programs already offered by COCC. They think a hybrid college may weaken the traditional community college mission while simultaneously not being as strong at a four-year mission as another institution or institutions might be.
"I have some concerns about whether the hybrid four-year model is not going to distract resources and energy from the community college function," Cox said. "I'm skeptical that we can have both in the same institution."
Cascadia supporters say, however, that the proposed institution would limit its four-year degree offerings to core subjects and areas where COCC already is a leader -- for instance, geographic information systems. Continuation of transfer programs, vocational training, technical classes and continuing education are a major part of the Cascadia plan.
Final responsibility for whether four-year programs weaken COCC's traditional mission probably rests with whoever's in charge, said former COCC President Frederick Boyle.
"It's going to depend a lot on who they have as a president in the future," Boyle said. "If they have a president committed to concept of community colleges, it's going to work; if they don't, upper-division and graduate-level courses will detract from it."
Although the Cascadia Concept itself is relatively new, notions of bringing four-year degrees to Central Oregon are not. Boyle and colleagues at COCC studied the idea in 1979, with degrees offered shortly after. In 1989, the state Board of Higher Education recognized the Central Oregon Consortium for Higher Education -- a scaling upward of four-year programs in Bend.
"I knew in 1989 that we'd won, so to speak -- and that someday there would be a four-year presence in Central Oregon," Boyle said.
Roger Bassett, state community college commissioner, said he doesn't think the form of four-year presence is as critical as its being done.
"The Cascadia part is of less importance to me than the evolution of baccalaureate degrees," Bassett said.
Bassett calls COCC's vision "evolutionary rather than revolutionary" -- a natural extension of local education officials' eagerness to supply four-year degree opportunities for Central Oregonians.
As COCC takes its Cascadia Concept cavalcade on the road, other questions have arisen -- even as a number of entities have endorsed the plan.
"First, I applaud the concept, I applaud their desire and I applaud the effect of what a four-year degree would offer," said Ben Westlund, the freshman House member representing District 55, which covers roughly the northern half of COCC's taxing district.
"Before I wholeheartedly commit, though, I want to look at the legislation and the long-term cost associated with it."
Like Westlund, Central Oregon House members Lynn Lundquist and Dennis Luke want to know more. Lundquist, as befits his think-first-talk-later reputation, said he couldn't comment on the proposal until he understands it better. Luke -- whose wife Joanne completed an Oregon State University degree through the University Center -- said he needs to be convinced.
Formal reaction to COCC's plans has been sparse in the higher education arena -- mostly because the idea is still forming and because there is yet little indication of Cascadia's chances of winning approval in the Legislature.
"I don't think there's any reaction here," said Oregon Institute of Technology President Lawrence Wolf. "Bend certainly needs more four-year programs, but how they are to be delivered certainly is a question."
By Mike Van Meter
Isn't the Central Oregon University Center good enough?
Perhaps that's not the most delicate way people ask the question, but the question is being asked as Central Oregon Community College moves ahead with plans to offer four-year degrees.
Certainly the University Center is providing degrees in Central Oregon. Its director, Richard Markwood, balances the designs of 10 different colleges and universities counting the host, Central Oregon Community College. Six of those institutions have arrived in the past two years and nearly all hope to further expand their offerings.
Markwood, who works from a small office in a faceless corner of the COCC campus, figures the University Center will remain regardless of whose vision of the future of higher education in Central Oregon pans out. Or for that matter, if an entirely different vision emerges as time goes by.
"If Cascadia comes into being, the University Center will continue," Markwood said.
Should Cascadia be rejected by the Legislature, Markwood figures something else will fill the role envisioned for Cascadia by COCC officials.
"I suspect students will be served," Markwood said. "We're going to figure out how to do it."
For all that, Markwood thinks local officials may be better equipped than the current overseers of the University Center to spearhead four-year degree efforts.
"I have to agree with Bob Barber," Markwood said. "Cascadia would be in a better position to respond to local needs than any other institution because we live here."
Markwood's strengths are flexibility and adjusting on the fly. The University Center -- a concept being picked up by Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay -- is driven by the demands of students.
The "rules," such as they are, have to be made as demands change. Change, in the case of Central Oregon, means huge growth.
New program ideas are pitched almost daily, it seems, and telecommunications technology has made it possible to introduce or expand programs without the risk and expense of opening a physical site at startup.
Some of the programs: business, information systems, international business and accounting from Linfield College; liberal studies from Oregon State University; master's programs in manufacturing engineering from the Oregon Center for Advanced Technology Education; bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from Oregon Health Sciences University; desktop publishing certificate from the University of Oregon.
"I think there's a recognition all around that you wouldn't have a University Center here if there wasn't a need for all these degrees," said Judy Stiegler, chairwoman of the state Board of Education.
Four-year degree programs were first offered in Central Oregon back in the early 1980s. Since then, programs have ebbed, flowed and grown into bachelor's and master's degree programs offered by nine different public and private schools, in cooperation with COCC.
COCC President Bob Barber and other advocates of Cascadia say the University Center will grow more specialized to offer the kinds of degrees a four-year community college cannot, changing from its current mix of general and specialized degrees. Oregon Higher Education Chancellor Joseph Cox envisions the University Center growing into the eighth campus in the Oregon State System of Higher Education.
"I see them (Cascadia and the University Center) on parallel tracks," said Barber, who suggests the visions aren't necessarily incompatible. "The University Center has always been a strong program -- I would hope they would continue."
The biggest presence at the University Center is Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande. EOSC offers bachelor's and master's level teaching degrees in Bend, as well as a liberal studies degree based on independent study. Two faculty members are based in Bend, with the possibility of more in the future. Like the center itself, Eastern's programs have grown quickly, and more are in the works.
"I think from what I've seen, the expectation is that Eastern will play a bigger role in Bend, whether or not Cascadia moves forward," said David Gilbert, EOSC president.
EOSC's provost, Bruce Shepard, said cooperation between COCC, Eastern and other institutions has made University Center programs possible -- and will be critical for the future. Battling over turf has no part of that.
"What we have to be careful about is that we don't waste resources," Shepard said. He cited an analogy about a small town where three shoe stores opened at once. Business was so slow for all three that they failed simultaneously. If colleges and universities do the same thing, Central Oregon could be left with less, rather than more, higher education.
"We don't want to compete -- we want to work together," Shepard said.
Shepard said talks have begun with Oregon State University for working together on combination degrees in Bend, an arrangement that has been successful for more than two decades in programs based in La Grande and Corvallis.
Markwood sees such expansion as reaching toward a sort of critical mass that will make Bend a place where more students will want to stay for college.
"When you get that much curriculum offered ... you can combine it to get some degrees that are fairly attractive," Markwood said.
Ten months ago, Central Oregon Community College board members and administrators announced the "Cascadia Concept," their vision of a plan to offer four-year degrees from a Bend-based institution of higher learning.
The proposal gradually has come into focus, and the Oregon Legislature will be asked to pass legislation allowing the college to offer four-year degrees.
What follows are some of the images in COCC's vision:
Institution: The current community college would be maintained, with expansion into bachelor's degree programs in keeping with that mission. Technical programs would be based on "inverted degrees," with students being able to leave after two years with a specific associate's degree or remain for two more years of general courses to gain a bachelor's degree.
Offerings would be fairly limited, with the Central Oregon University Center continuing to offer more advanced and specialized (teaching and nursing, for example) degrees that Cascadia wouldn't offer.
Timing: The college wants to offer its first bachelor's degree in 2001, with programs in place by 1999. Upper-division classes could be offered even earlier.
Funding: COCC President Bob Barber envisions a hybrid funding mechanism to go along with the hybrid college. The traditional local property tax base would continue to pay for two-year programs and state income taxes would fund upper-division programs.
COCC would ask the Legislature for about $1.2 million for the 2001-02 budget year to pay for educating the equivalent of 300 full-time students. Those students would pay about $800,000 in tuition. The current operating budget at the school runs about $14 million annually.
Governance: The local board would continue to run the school, but upper-division programs would have to be approved by the Oregon Board of Higher Education.
Cascadia is not a unique concept. Utah Valley Community College, Maricopa (Ariz.) Community College, and Miami-Dade are community colleges that give four-year degrees, while Pennsylvania State Colleges offer inverted degrees. While not unique, it is relatively new and still relatively rare, so there isn't much in the way of examples for COCC to follow.
For governance, Barber looks at Oregon Health Sciences University -- spun off from the higher education system as a public corporation in 1995. Barber said OHSU now operates with a separate board that defines programs but still gets authority for those programs from the state higher ed board.