The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a downward trend in community college enrollment in Oregon. At Oregon’s largest college, Portland Community College, enrollment fell 23% between before the pandemic and last fall, according to data from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. But community colleges continue to look for ways to attract and retain students, especially underrepresented students — and CCP is seeing evidence that a program it has supported for years is paying off.

Future Connect, a PCC scholarship and support program, has served more than 3,600 low-income and first-generation students in the Portland area. Students, alumni, and college and community leaders celebrated the 10th anniversary of PCC’s Future Connect program this month.

“We know that the Future Connect approach helps low-income, first-generation students — and the majority of our students have been students of color — to graduate at higher rates, earn more credits, get on track, to persist at higher rates. than his peers,” CPC Chairman Mark Mitsui told the OPB.

Future Connect offers both scholarships and support, including career counseling and one-on-one counseling, to low-income students or students who are the first in their family to attend Multnomah County University , Hillsboro and Beaverton.

Mitsui considers the program “a model of public-private partnerships.” When the program launched a decade ago, it had support from the city of Portland, donations through the PCC Foundation, and investments from the college itself. Now these partnerships have grown to include the towns of Beaverton and Hillsboro. According to the PCC Foundation, nonprofit and corporate leaders, including Meyer Memorial Trust and Hillsboro Aviation, have also supported the program.

“It’s grown, I think, from 100 initial students to 300 new students a year,” Mitsui said.

A 2017 report from Portland’s nonprofit Education Northwest found that Future Connect had a “substantial impact” on student academic outcomes, including higher grade point averages and completion and transfer rates.

“As economic inequality grows in the United States, programs like Future Connect provide potential models for how we can achieve more equitable postsecondary outcomes for low-income and first-generation students by providing evidence-based supports. relationships, student-centered and holistic,” reads the report.

In addition to scholarships and personal advice, Future Connect helps students with their next steps on their academic or professional journey, such as helping with internships and navigating the transfer process if they wish to pursue studies at the beyond a partner.

Although the program has grown significantly over the past decade, Mitsui said it still lacks the capacity to serve all students who apply.

“The need far exceeds our funding,” he said. “I think the ratio is something like for every student we take in, there are nine more who have applied. The demand is there. »