Oregon: Strategic Alignment
Oregon boasted the highest increase in high school graduation rates across all 50 states between 2014 and 2018, thanks to sustained attention from state leaders to the education pipeline from eighth grade through college graduation. The state produces the equivalent of 3,000 additional graduates each year and has made substantial improvements in college attainment rates thanks to committed leadership with innovative policy and funding strategies.
Oregon stands out for making consistent improvements in college attendance and attainment rates. This is fueled in part by an increase of 7% in overall high school graduation rates between 2014 and 2018. Simultaneously, the state produced almost 24,000 more young adults – ages 25-to-34 – with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Highlights from 2014 to 2018:
- An increase of three percentage points in the attainment rate for 18-to-24-year-olds with an associate degree or higher.
- An increase of four percentage points in bachelor’s attainment rate among 25-to-34-year-olds. This includes a nine-point increase for Black residents, which translates to 1,250 more Black young adults with bachelor’s degrees. It also includes a five-point increase for Hispanic residents, which means 4,700 more Hispanic young adults now have bachelor’s degrees.
How it happens
A sustained commitment to aligning goals and policy created a more robust pipeline from the secondary to post-secondary sectors. This was successfully coupled with investments in the state supports that drive Oregon’s strategic vision around attainment.
Oregon was an early adopter of an attainment goal, including setting targets for equity. The plan, known as 40/40/20, was officially adopted in 2011 and focused on the pipeline from high school to college. Its objective was for 40% of Oregonians ages 25-to-34 to complete bachelor’s degrees by 2025, 40% to have an associate degree or other skilled credential, and 20% with at least a high school diploma. In addition, the Higher Education Coordination Commission’s (HECC) Strategic Plan was anchored by the Equity Lens, adopted in 2014, to ensure the state’s policy and funding decisions advance equity.
The state also implemented a career-pathways initiative that aimed to increase certificates that can be stacked into associate degrees. This resulted in a large increase in certificate awarded. Additionally, as policymakers contemplated an Outcomes Based Funding (OBF) model in 2014, community colleges became more focused on completions, and awarded more certificate than in years past. The four-year higher education sector implemented OBF in 2015. The formula was weighted to reward institutions increasing graduations for underrepresented students across many categories.
Oregon also committed to protect affordability for students. In 2017, the state implemented the Oregon Promise, a last dollar grant program designed to make community college as affordable as possible for qualifying students. It was designed to send a clear signal to students that community college is attainable and affordable. One of the result from the program was an increase in the number of students filling out the FAFSA, signally increased interest from students in attending college immediately after high school graduation or completing their GED.
Additionally, in an effort to keep rising tuition under control, the HECC requires all institutions to seek approval before raising tuition more than 5%. Each community college sets tuition independently. Some kept tuition at zero during the Great Recession; others said they would raise it 3.5% every year to absorb inflation. The HECC believes, however, that the shift helped to keep the rate of tuition increases down.
A sustained commitment to strategic alignment of supports and policies is leading to large increases in the number of associate and bachelor degrees awarded, with most of the gains for Black and Hispanic students.
The Ford Family Foundation focuses on rural Oregon and makes investments in postsecondary success initiatives including scholarships. The Foundation partnered with community foundations in 2016 and 2017 to fund Oregon’s student success centers, focused on Guided Pathways to Success and developmental education reform.
Why it matters
Leadershipin Oregon created a vision for the K-12-to-post-secondary pipeline by being an early adopter of a higher education attainment goal. This overarching goal, coupled with the state’s laser-like focus on equity, resulted in efforts to support students through the transition from high school to college. This focused vision is seeing results in high school graduations and improving college participation and attainment rates.
What to watch
Oregon’s mediocre performance on NAEP, especially compared to neighboring Washington and Idaho, should be a cause for concern. While small improvements in eighth-grade reading and math from 2011-15 were consistent with the improvement in the high school graduation rate, proficiency rates declined from 2015-19, which may not bode well for continued improvements in the pipeline.