Senate Bill 1, introduced at a public hearing this week by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, could allow community colleges and public universities to merge. A similar bill was introduced in 2019 but did not garner enough votes.
“I know it’s a different idea. If we don’t change how [the] higher education system operates, we’re going to leave a lot of our students behind, and Oregon is going to lose out on a lot of potential,” Courtney explained to the East Oregonian.
According to Courtney, giving the two higher ed institutions an opportunity to merge would reduce “transitional challenges” because it would create “curricular continuity,”
Community colleges and public universities that hope to consolidate need to submit a plan to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission detailing the timeline as well as the effects on the finances, employees, students, and programs of the two institutions.
Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow, pointed out that implementing the legislation could cause some difficulties. He cited the different governing systems and funding streams between the two as an example.
“The community colleges, their boards are elected by their local communities and they’re really proud of that, and that is a special relationship they have with their communities, and that’s a question we’d need to solve,” he said.
Meanwhile, the board of trustees at Oregon’s public universities are named by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.
Alternatives to Merging
The Higher Education Coordinating Commission has pointed out alternatives to consolidating operations that did not involve full mergers, such as singular accreditations and sharing of academic resources. It also pointed to the success of the mergers in the University System of Georgia for reference.