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Community college education continuing at Oregon correctional facilities under new agreement

Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Department of Corrections have entered into a new agreement to continue providing inmates with educational programming through community colleges across the state.

This comes after uncertainty last October when the Oregon DOC said it would be cutting ties with the six community colleges it contracts with. ODOC said at the time that was a move to bring its adult education programming in-house. Corrections officials had said it would help address the agency’s budget shortfall and an inconsistency of services they said the department was receiving through the current contracts.

ODOC and the community colleges said they were working on a new agreement late last year. That interagency agreement was officially signed by representatives from ODOC and the HECC last Tuesday.

ODOC said the new contracts with the colleges have saved the agency money and addressed some of the service requests it was hoping for.

“We are pleased that the agreements include increased student contact hours, educational programming at all DOC institutions, and the beginnings of a unified delivery of educational services,” DOC communications manager Jennifer Black said. “DOC remains committed to continued improvements in our education services.”

Black said ODOC’s new contracts are approximately $2.7 million less than the previous ones.

The community colleges involved in the new agreement, which is effective through the end of 2023, are Portland Community College, Central Oregon Community College, Blue Mountain Community College, Chemeketa Community College, Southwestern Oregon Community College and Treasure Valley Community College.

Those colleges will offer services including Adult Basic Education, General Education Development (or GED), English as a Second Language and Special Education, according to the interagency agreement.

“We are glad that the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and six Oregon community colleges were able to develop an agreement that supports high quality education for adults in custody and continues the 20-year history of community colleges providing those services,” Patrick Crane, director of HECC’s Office of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, said in a statement.

The Oregon Community College Association was also part of the interagency agreement process. For the past four months, the agency said it coordinated meetings between the colleges, the HECC and — early on in the process — ODOC.

“OCCA and the six community colleges are appreciative of the immense amount of work the staff at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission did to bring a new contract with the Department of Corrections to fruition,” OCCA executive director Cam Preus said.

“We are proud of the quality of the education our colleges have provided to AICs [adults in custody] for decades that have led our programs to be among the best in the country. We are confident that good work will continue as we enter into these new contracts so that we can continue to serve these students.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced last month that she is moving to close three Oregon prisons by July 2022: Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend and Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview.

The interagency agreement between ODOC and HECC acknowledges that monthly compensation for education services will end, and be prorated, for any correctional facility that is closed.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell