Pathways to Opportunity

Portland Community College — Goal 2 Initiative Pathways to Opportunity

The Pathways to Opportunity initiative is about leveraging partnerships between colleges and external partners to help students who are experiencing at least one form of basic needs insecurity (food, housing, etc.) access services and braid together funding. In a recent survey by the Hope Center, 19% of PCC responding students experienced houselessness, 41% experienced food insecurity and over 50% experienced housing insecurity. Basic needs insecurity is the major barrier to access and completion for a large percentage of our students. These basic needs have to be addressed in order to have a holistic understanding of how to support the most underserved student populations toward degree/credential completion. 

Pathways to Opportunity is a statewide initiative being led by PCC that aims to close opportunity gaps and increase economic mobility by expanding the federal, state, and local resources available to low-income students so more individuals can attend and complete community college. This work increases access to education but also is tied with getting students into programs that support economic mobility and upskilling through targeted Career Pathways. Given the large number of community college students experiencing basic needs insecurities, the large number of low-income students and Pell eligible students, the estimated scale of impact is quite large. Success can be measured by the increased number of students gaining access to state and federal benefits programs, increased number of students enrolled in and completing education and training programs, increased number of students gaining self-sufficiency by blending state and federal resources and assistance and increased funding via the 50% reimbursement grant through the Department of Human Services.  

We at PCC are pleased to contribute this important goal as part of the Task Force for Higher Education and Opportunity, and excited to continue to move this vital work forward.

Mark Mitsui, Portland Community College

Initiative Differentiators

Pathways to Opportunity brings to the table community colleges, Department of Health & Human Services, Oregon Employment Department, and other key state and community-based organizations that have an anti-poverty agenda. By establishing a community of practice and by creating a shared policy vision, this work has created the Community College STEP Consortia which extends and expands the SNAP Training and Employment Program by using Oregon’s Community College Career Pathways framework. Students in STEP receive college success and career coaching, internship/job placement assistance, and financial resources needed to complete their education and training. Academic Advisors and other key staff are being trained to use Single Stop. This work provides a pathway to self-sufficiency by blending state and federal resources and assistance. STEP also brings needed federal resources to Oregon through the 50% reimbursement grant through the DHS and generates philanthropic support, as well. PCC and Oregon are national leaders in STEP expansion.  

Key Interventions and Milestones

The initiative will create, support, and host a Community of Practice for institutions of higher education, Health & Human Service, Oregon Employment Department, and other key state and community-based organizations that have an anti-poverty agenda. This includes annual convenings or summits to deepen understanding and share best practices.  

The program aims to train key college personnel on the use of Single Stop a benefits screening tool to help students explore, navigate and obtain access to additional financial resources to address basic needs such as Increasing access to food stamps, TANF, SNAP Education and Training funding in addition to PELL funding and philanthropic funds. 

PCC and our Benefits Navigator partners supported Oregon House Bill 2935 and Senate Bill 849 in this last legislative session. The successful passing of both these bills now means that Oregon community college and public universities will have Benefits Navigators and work together to establish a statewide consortium around this work.  

Expected Impact

The initiative looks at increased spending revenue (reimbursements from billing, tuition and support services) to track success, and will continue to track number of students accessing and completing Career Pathways. Over the next year the initiative intends to increase the number of Integrated Education and Training (IET) participants.