Originally appeared in the Bend Bulletin’s U Magazine Sept. 8th, 2012
Higher education in Central Oregon has been a hot button issue since Oregon State University added a Bend-based branch campus in 2001. Located on the Central Oregon Community College campus, OSU-Cascades has upped the choices for graduating seniors from Associate level classes to complete Bachelor’s Degree offerings.
Leading the charge of shaping higher education in Central Oregon are Dr. Becky Johnson, vice president of OSU-Cascades and Dr. Karin Hilgersom, Vice-President for Instruction at COCC.
Beginning as small mountain town with one community college, Bend has blossomed into the educational hub of Central Oregon. As the oldest two-year college in Oregon, COCC keeps expanding to meet the post-secondary educational needs of Central Oregonians. Meanwhile, OSU-Cascades is moving toward becoming a full, four-year university with over 3,000 students.
Path to a Career in Education
“Find your passion, hone your talent, and share your calling with others seeking an education,” advises Dr. Hilgersom. These words not only relay advice to future educators, but also paint a picture of the road current educators have taken.
Dr. Hilgersom’s love affair with learning began at California State University, Stanislaus, when she realized she had a passion for Communication Studies. After obtaining her Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon, she started her career on the other side of the desk at Spokane Community College and Gonzaga University. Moving up the ladder to a VPI role at Walla Walla Community College, she decided to move to Central Oregon.
“I was looking for a lateral VPI move to a college with an organizational structure that would assist in my growth as a leader of community colleges,” explains Hilgersom. “My husband had visited Bend and really enjoyed Central Oregon in general.”
Becky Johnson’s path began with a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Michigan State University. A desire to teach and research lead her to take a job in OSU’s College of Forestry. After 20+ years at OSU, Dr. Johnson was asked to serve as the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs, first as an interim, and then full-time.
“I was asked to take the CEO position on an interim basis for 6 months in 2009,” explains Dr. Johnson. “After a few months, I realized that I really liked the challenge of the job and the support of the community, so I decided to stay on permanently.”
Where We Are in Higher Education
In the last decade, COCC has transformed itself into one of the top community colleges in the state. “We are now a comprehensive community college with a wide range of workforce programs and a solid and well respected university prep transfer curriculum,” states Hilgersom. “We are very proud of our wonderful new facilities, including a Campus Center, Culinary Institute, Science building, and a Health Careers building.”
OSU-Cascades currently serves as a branch campus that is growing exponentially to meet the post-secondary needs of graduating seniors.
“The status as a branch campus of OSU allows our students to earn the exact same degree, with the same quality of professors, as their Corvallis counterparts, but in smaller class sizes and in an incredible location,” says Dr. Johnson.
Where We Are Headed
At this year’s legislative session, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, along with state higher education chancellor George Pernsteiner laid out an ambitious 40-40-20 plan. The lofty goal wants to see 40 percent of the state’s adults with a four-year college degrees, 40 percent with a two-year degrees or the equivalent, and the remaining 20 percent with high school degrees. The mere declaration of such a feat both excites and worries educators throughout the state.
“In ten years,” Dr. Johnson predicts, “COCC will still be thriving while OSU-Cascades will be a 4-year university with over 3,000 students, and will be an active partner with local businesses and organizations. Many students will come from out-of-state or other countries, adding to the diversity and vibrancy of Central Oregon’s culture.”
“There is a great interest in raising the bar when it comes to a highly educated citizenry prepared to meet the current challenges as well as those that will arise in a decade,” Dr. Hilgersom adds. “Workforce programs will be held somewhat more accountable for responsible career placement and readiness. Transfer readiness and expectations of college graduates in general will continue to be raised.”
“The complement of COCC’s technical programs and OSU’s bachelor’s and graduate programs will have contributed to a much more diversified and stable Central Oregon economy,” Dr. Johnson hopes.
Influence on Higher Education
“My position affords me the opportunity to meet with business and community leaders throughout the region, letting them know about OSU-Cascades’ programs and vision for the future,” explains Dr. Johnson. “The relationships I’ve made in the community have been a huge source of support as we’ve fought off closure by the legislature, and now are expanding into a 4-year campus.”
Dr. Hilgersom’s influence at COCC runs closer to the students. “I’d like to think I can influence the student success agenda both at the community college and the Baccalaureate level,” says Dr. Hilgersom. “I’ve definitely altered the organizational structure in instruction with the hope that student completion rates and success will improve.”
What the Future Holds
Besides looking forward to experiencing all that Central Oregon has to offer, both women have high expectations for themselves and their respective institutions.
“I want to see the full expansion of OSU-Cascades to a 4-year university, which we hope will happen in 2015,” declares Dr. Johnson. “The sky is the limit for OSU-Cascades, just like it is for Central Oregon in general. The same things that make people want to live in Central Oregon will make students and faculty want to come here.”
Dr. Hilgersom states, “I’ve learned a great deal from two wonderful presidents, Steve VanAusdale and Jim Middleton. I also enjoy watching Becky Johnson at work. One day I hope to merge all the outstanding leadership qualities I’ve observed and serve as a community college President.”
When asked for advice geared toward girls wanting to follow in their education-based footsteps, both Drs. Johnson and Hilgersom offer it up enthusiastically.
“If you have a passion for education, and pursue that passion into a career in education,” says Dr. Johnson, “you will have the greatest impact on future generations of any career choice.”
In an economic climate that seeks cuts in education all the while demanding excellence in schooling, the result can be devastating to students and communities alike. Lucky for us Central Oregonians, we have higher education leaders working together for the best interest of high school graduates and Deschutes County as a whole.
“It is so important for COCC to be great partners with OSU-Cascades,” states Dr. Hilgersom. “When we work together with the same intention, highly educated Central Oregonians, really great results can happen fairly quickly.”