Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC) has served Lincoln County since 1987. OCCC is 100 percent focused on serving our community, and every term, our publication, “Catch the Wave,” is mailed to every county resident. Courses are available for students at our facilities (Newport/South Beach, Lincoln City and Waldport), online and at community locations such the Port of Toledo, where welding classes will begin in February. OCCC offers dual credit courses at Lincoln County High Schools. English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and GED courses are available at multiple locations. Small business and community education opportunities are also offered around the county at a variety of college and non-college locations (even on the beach). OCCC truly has something for everyone at almost every age.
I joined the college in 2014 (the best decision of my career), and in 2015, we launched a strategic plan called “Five Big Ideas.” Three of the big ideas had to do with internal goals: strengthening our organization through better planning and structures, making OCCC a great place to work and becoming what we envisioned as an “agile organization,” equipped to respond and address the evolving needs of Lincoln County. Idea number two was to grow enrollment by offering more programs relevant to Lincoln County, particularly in career fields including STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In recent years, OCCC has added new credit programs, such as Business and Computer Applications and Teaching (K-12 and Early Childhood Education).
Another of our big ideas was to bring the college to independent regional accreditation with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). When founded in 1987, and for decades after, OCCC lacked many of the requisites necessary for independent accreditation. Benefits of regional accreditation are critical for students, as it allows access to federal financial aid and ensures earned credits are transferable to other colleges and universities. Since its inception, OCCC has operated under agreements with other larger “sponsor” community colleges. And our students, including the more than 200 OCCC nurses who have walked across the commencement stage, have all carried diplomas reading Portland, Clatsop or Chemeketa Community College, and received federal financial aid through sometimes byzantine processes involving those colleges.
Going to college is already challenging, especially for students who are balancing studies with working, supporting families, fighting poverty and who are often first in their family to attend college. Complex processes for transfer and financial aid only complicate matters. Additionally, the relationship with the sponsor college meant that OCCC had to adopt the sponsoring college’s curriculum, often designed to meet the needs of more urban metro areas.
As of the time of this writing, OCCC is awaiting notification from the NWCCU on whether the commission deems OCCC is ready to assume independence. Watch this newspaper for news on the commission’s decision, and what it means for OCCC moving forward.
Meanwhile, your community college is committed to further enhancing and improving the services it provides to Lincoln County. Atop the list of our priorities is to build on the successful launch of our new welding program by further investing in education for the trades and STEM. In the months to come, you’ll learn more about the Workforce Education and Resiliency Center (WERC), a new facility the college plans to build on its Newport campus. In the WERC, we’re designing a multi-functional, utilitarian structure ideal for delivering programs designed to train Lincoln County residents for lucrative careers, such as welding, marine technologies, emergency response and more. “Resiliency” signals our intention to design a building capable of functioning as a community shelter in the event of a major-disaster and reflects the College’s integral role in county emergency response planning.
Watch for more details in the weeks to come, as we get to work on the WERC.
To learn more about the college, come visit one of our locations. Also consider attending our annual fundraiser, Pearls of Wisdom, on March 7. This entertaining event features a wonderful dinner and behind-the-scenes tours and activities throughout our campus in Newport, including the unparalleled OCCC Aquarium Science Program facility. Thanks for your support, and we hope to see you on campus soon.
Dr. Birgitte Ryslinge is the president of Oregon Coast Community College.