OCCC ranks best in state

BY CALLEY HAIR    Of the News-Times, September 28, 2016 (Page A1)

NEWPORT — Oregon Coast Community College is the best in the state, according to a recent ranking of 821 community colleges across the country by fi nancial planning company WalletHub.    OCCC ranked No. 56, a full 182 places ahead of its closest competitor, Tillamook Bay Community College. The study analyzed several metrics, including cost, retention and post-graduate employment rates.    “When you’re small, statistics can swing widely. So it happens that this lens picked up some things we’re doing   well,” said OCCC President Birgitte Ryslinge.    WalletHub released the study just in time for Oregon Coast’s first day of fall semester classes on Monday, Sept. 26.    The college definitely gained some bragging rights, Ryslinge said, although it’s worth bearing in mind that much of the criteria of the survey coincidentally favored the school.    “It happened to align with areas that are really strong for us — our class sizes, our nursing graduates, our support   with grants,” Ryslinge said.    Each community college was ranked on a 100-point scale, with different categories weighted with dierent levels of importance.    To measure the cost of each college, WalletHub analysts looked at tuition and fees, the availability of grants, the total cost per student, the efficiency of school spending, and faculty salaries.    That particular metric varied widely from state to state     based on government investment in community college. For instance, of the eight colleges with the lowest tuition and fees, seven are located in California.    “There’s a lot of variation, state by state, in some of the factors that were the basis for this ranking,” Ryslinge said. “It’s not apples to apples.”    In Oregon, the legislature has a legacy of poor investment in higher education. Until a July 2015 bill hiked the higher education budget by 22 percent, the state ranked 47th nationwide in spending per student.    The OCCC board of education voted in April to increase student fees by $9 per credit, a bump that cost the average full-time student an additional $405 per year. Despite that increase, the cost of attending Oregon Coast hovers near the state average, although it’s well above the national norm.    According to the College Board, the national average cost of attending a two-year, in-state school was $3,435 in 2015-16. For the upcoming year, OCCC will cost the average full-time student $5,175 per year.    “(We’re) middle of the pack in Oregon, but if you put Oregon   up against the other states, we’re on the high end,” Ryslinge said.    However, OCCC ranked higher than the state’s cheaper schools in part because of a high concentration of need-based Pell Grant recipients, Ryslinge said.    “We are a small school, we can really do this personal attention. We try hard to find funding for every student who’s qualified,” Ryslinge said.    The metric favored colleges with low student populations. OCCC and the next highly ranked school, Tillamook Bay, are the smallest community colleges in Oregon.    As of Sept. 26, the OCCC had enrolled 170 part-time students and 228 full-time students in fall classes, although Ryslinge said that number remains in flux as students add and drop courses through the semester.    The study also ranked schools based on educational outcomes, measuring first year retention, graduation and transfer rates, as well as credits awarded to full-time students and the student:faculty ratio.    At OCCC, class sizes average around 15 or 20 students, Ryslinge said.    “When you think about taking a biology lab … if you’re at a university, you   may be one of a couple hundred students,” Ryslinge said.    The ranking’s final criteria studied career outcomes. Analysts measured students’ return on their educational investment and the student loan default rate.    As a result, schools with more technical programs, or those that result in higher starting salaries immediately upon graduation, ranked higher.    That includes OCCC, where nursing remains one of the most popular programs.    “Those starting salaries for nurses are among the highest up and down the coast,” Ryslinge said. “We’re talking living, family wage.”    The college also oers one-year certificates in accounting, aquarium science, business and computing — the kind of low-risk, high-reward investment that could help a student launch a career.    “We have really a pretty good ratio of those certificates you can complete in a short amount of time,” Ryslinge said. “All the credits that you earn in those absolutely apply to the fuller degree.”    OCCC is the only community college in the state not independently accredited by the Northwest Commission   on Colleges and Universities. The school’s degrees currently piggyback oof Portland Community College’s program, and much of Oregon Coast’s curriculum material is drawn from parallel programs at the larger school.    “It’s perceived as being a limiting factor, but I would say not,” Ryslinge said.    Using it’s relationship with PCC, Oregon Coast can   pluck specific programs from the vast array of options and tailor them specifically for the region’s needs, Ryslinge said.    Although they share much of the same course material, the Portland college ranked 725th in the country and 12th out of the state’s 16 ranked community colleges.    The top honor went to Helene Fuld College of Nursing   in New York, and Hudson County Community College in New Jersey received the worst rank. The full rankings and methodology can be viewed at wallethub.com/ edu/best-worst-communitycolleges/15076.    Contact reporter Calley Hair at 541-265-857 1 ext. 211 or chair@newportnewstimes.com  

  Students gather in the Oregon Coast Community College atrium on the first day of the fall semester on Monday, Sept. 26. OCCC was recently named the best community college in Oregon in a comprehensive ranking of 821 schools, primarily due to its small size and focus on technical programs. (Photo by Calley Hair)

 

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