Pathways to Opportunity

Portland Community College — Goal 1 Initiative Pathways to Opportunity

Pathways to Opportunity closes opportunity gaps and increases economic mobility across the state by connecting low-income individuals to the resources they need to complete college and move into careers.  Led by PCC, a coalition of all 17 community colleges, Oregon Department of Human Services, and community-based organizations are transforming policy and programs to ensure opportunity is not out of reach of any Oregonian.

Tuition and books only represent a small share of the costs to attend college.  The rising costs of food, housing, transportation, and childcare are resulting in staggering rates of basic needs insecurity amongst community college students.  In a recent survey, over half of all Portland Community College students reported experiencing housing insecurity. Over 40% reported experiencing food insecurity, and nearly 20% experienced homelessness. 

To address basic needs insecurity, students must be able to access all of the public benefits and social services possible. Yet, far too many students don’t know that these benefits exist or don’t access them because of stigma.  As a result, too many low-income students are dropping out of community colleges due to unmet financial need—not for lack of talent, effort, or drive to create a better life for themselves and their families.

Pathways to Opportunity bridges this opportunity gap at PCC and across the state, by expanding and increasing access to federal, state, and local resources available to low-income students. Staff provide holistic support, to help students navigate and access benefit programs like SNAP and subsidized daycare.  Programs like the STEP (SNAP Training and Employment Program) provide direct resources to students to increase college completion and attainment of quality jobs. 

To address basic needs insecurity, Pathways to Opportunity transforms policy, partnerships, and programs.  This is both an economic development and social justice imperative, and is key to increasing racial equity and an inclusive recovery.

Educational attainment has a lifelong impact on students. Yet, many students are one sick kid or one flat tire away from dropping out, given the staggering unmet financial need and historic rates of housing and food insecurity they experience. Students need holistic support and unfettered access to benefits to meet these basic needs. Pathways to Opportunity integrates and expands benefits for low-income students at colleges across the state. This transformative work is not only fundamental to equitably serving students, but central as we work to advance racial equity and create an inclusive economy.

Mark Mitsui, Portland Community College

Initiative Differentiators

The Pathways to Opportunity initiative connects a vast array of partners – including other community colleges, the Oregon Department of Human Services, anti-poverty organizations, and other state agencies– to increase resources for students lacking basic needs security. The initiative has also widened the SNAP Training and Employment Program using Oregon's Community College Career Pathways framework, making PCC one of the national leaders in expanding this program.

Key Interventions and Milestones

Throughout the implementation of Pathways to Opportunity, PCC will train key college personnel on the use of Single Stop, a benefits screening tool designed to connect students to critical financial resources. PCC will continue to lead a statewide Community of Practice for the initiative, bringing together national policy experts and state coalition partners to deepen understanding of basic needs insecurities and share best practices. These activities – alongside increasing access to SNAP, EITC, other public benefits, and SNAP Education and Training funding – will broaden access to key financial resources for students in need.

Expected Impact

By dismantling financial barriers that often bar low-income community college students from completing college, the initiative aims to increase the number of students gaining access to state and federal benefits programs, boost student enrollment in PCC, increase college credential/degree completion, and support students to move into careers that offer economic mobility.  For Oregon, Pathways to Opportunity is essential for increasing racial and economic equity, as the state moves to recover and rebuild a more inclusive economy.