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Degree Partnership Signing (copy)

Greg Hamann, Linn-Benton Community College president, left, and Edward John Ray, Oregon State University president, sign a memorandum of understanding to extend the degree partnership, commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the first-of-its-kind Degree Partnership Program in the state.

The presidents of Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College last week marked the 20-year anniversary of a program that has made higher education more affordable and more attainable to nearly 19,000 or so students over the last two decades.

Even better: OSU President Ed Ray and LBCC President Greg Hamann agreed to keep the program going.

In May 1998, when OSU President Paul Risser and LBCC President Jon Carnahan signed the agreement starting what was then called the dual admission and enrollment program, the two presidents must have had high hopes for the initiative, the first of its kind in the state.

The partnership allowed students, starting in the fall of 1998, to apply to both institutions with one application, pay one fee and take classes on either campus. It originally was for undergraduates in agricultural science, business and engineering, but quickly expanded to include all majors.

It's not an overstatement to call the program, now known simply as the degree partnership program, a smashing success that has changed the landscape of Oregon higher education, for the better, over the past two decades.

In Oregon, we're still too prone to divide our educational system into silos: We have prekindergarten programs, K-12 programs, community colleges and four-year universities. But many of these divisions are artificial and not always particularly useful. The partnership between OSU and LBCC basically knocked down some of the walls. Under the program, students can start taking classes at LBCC, taking advantage of the less-expensive tuition and smaller class sizes, and then transition to OSU for the final few years of coursework. Students can access resources such as guidance counselors to help ensure successful completion. Dual-program students can live in OSU dorms, even if all their classes are at LBCC.

At LBCC, the program helped pave the way for the school's current emphasis on completion — the idea that most LBCC students should finish a course of study, and emerge with certification or a two-year associate degree or a bachelor's degree from a university.

"We're not only about access, we're about completion," Hamann said at last week's signing ceremony. "That changes the way we play together."

At OSU, the partnership with LBCC has been so successful that the university has since signed partnerships with all 17 community colleges in Oregon.

"This is pretty fundamental to what we all need to be about," Ray said last week. He added that the idea behind the program "was a very powerful notion to me, and something that represented exactly what we needed to do going forward. It's not about 'our student versus your student.' It's not about 'our money versus your money.'"

That's right: The program is about what's best for students. Sometimes, that's something that's too easily lost.

As of winter term 2017, the last term for which statistics were readily available, OSU had nearly 6,000 students enrolled in the degree partnership program. The vast majority of those students, more than 4,500, came from LBCC. (Portland Community College and Chemeketa in Salem contributed about more than 500 students each.)

The program also has played a role in transforming the shape of OSU's student body: In terms of enrollment, OSU's largest classes are at the junior and senior level, meaning that the students who come to the university these days are somewhat more likely to be older students who have finished two years of education elsewhere.

The two presidents signed their ceremonial document pledging to continue the program at last week's 2018 Degree Partnership Program Summit, a gathering that attracted folks from community colleges and universities around the state. It was a fitting location for Hamann and Ray to renew their support for the agreement that got it all started — a program that has aided thousands of students and promises to do the same for generations of students yet to come. (mm)

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Managing Editor