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Regional Interests

A bill looks to prioritize underrepresented student success in Oregon higher ed

Oregon legislators are considering a bill that would create a task force focused on success for underrepresented college students.

House Bill 2590 is continuing to move through the Legislature this session. If the bill passes, a group of state lawmakers will be tasked with visiting postsecondary institutions across the state in order to meet with current, former and prospective students from underrepresented groups. Those conversations are intended to help develop policy focused on student success — including academic success, as well as college affordability, food and housing needs and entry into the workforce after graduation.

Those underrepresented groups not only include students of color, but also students in the LGBTQ community, students from rural communities, low-income students and other groups.

That task force of Oregon lawmakers, which would be appointed by the Senate president and the speaker of the House, would also meet with faculty, staff and community partners who support underrepresented students in their work.

Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, is one of the bill’s chief sponsors. She emphasized the bill’s importance at a Joint Subcommittee on Education work session on Thursday.

“This is a really great opportunity for us to reimagine and rethink about what post-secondary, higher ed can look like through the lens of students,” Alonso León said. “This is giving our students an opportunity to provide feedback and make our public postsecondary higher ed institutions more accessible, more affordable and ensure that all of our students, especially our underrepresented students are reflected in the way that we do higher ed.”

The Joint Subcommittee on Education voted unanimously to pass the bill along to the full Joint Committee on Ways and Means for further consideration.

Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission will assist that task force’s work, said Kyle Thomas, the HECC’s director of legislative and policy affairs, during a board meeting Thursday.

“We do expect to play a significant role in advising the task force in the performance of its duties and crafting recommendations in the coming months and are hopeful the work results in tangible recommendations that the legislature will be interested in funding,” Thomas said.

A number of students, officials and higher education employees testified on the importance of the bill earlier this year.

“I want to see Oregon get serious about creating postsecondary education opportunities which are inclusive of all cultures,” Summer Townsend, a Native American student at Treasure Valley Community College, wrote in written testimony included at a March public hearing for the bill.

“Going into higher education is a culture shock for minorities, so I want a campus that has a Native cultural center, [H]ispanic cultural center, and even more,” Townsend wrote. “If we could figure out a way to make sure the needs of underrepresented students are met in higher education, it would help decrease the equity gap.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting