Bill allows colleges to compete

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SALEM (AP) — The Oregon Legislature on Thursday sent Gov. John Kitzhaber a bill that would repeal a prohibition on public community colleges creating programs that compete with offerings of for-profit career colleges.

Supporters of the ban say it enables for-profit universities to compete on a level playing field with public colleges.

But community colleges say it restricts their ability to create new public programs to train workers for career fields like phlebotomy, truck driving and nursing. They say it raises costs and makes it harder to meet demand for trained workers.

Kitzhaber intends to sign the bill, his spokesman, Tim Raphael, said.

The restriction on community colleges competing with private schools has resulted in fewer course offerings, particularly in the health-care field where there is a demand for workers with post-secondary degrees, said John Wykoff, a lobbyist for the Oregon Community College Association, which supports the bill.

Wykoff said the law has had a chilling effect on the programs community colleges introduce.

“It’s not a two-way street,” he said.

Current law requires that a public institution notify private colleges if it seeks to set up a new program. If a career college finds the new program would have an “adverse impact” on a program it offers or intends to offer, the community college is banned from developing that new program.

The law was modified a few years ago to exempt some community college programs.

Gary Conkling, a lobbyist for the Northwest Career Colleges Federation, which opposed the repeal, said the law benefits taxpayers by ensuring public resources aren’t being used to fund an educational program that’s already available.

“It doesn’t seem unfair to have at least a mild restraint ... to ensure that there weren’t unnecessary duplications,” said Conkling, who opposed the repeal.

Conkling said eliminating the law could mean less private programs. “The net effect of it is that it might discourage some private investment in programs in Oregon,” he said.

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