College advocacy groups to decide on merger in May

Two student lobby groups that represent Lane and other colleges discussed a possible merger Feb. 21 during an annual conference at Portland State University.

Oregon Community College Student Association and Oregon Student Association provide educational workshops for their member campuses, and help those students organize for various efforts, such as lobbying the state legislature. OCCSA consists of all 16 community colleges in Oregon.

The meeting opened with a presentation by the merger committee, comprised of three OSA and three OCCSA representatives. The presenters referred to the merged organization as the Statewide Student Association.

The committee presented estimates of fees students currently pay toward the organization and estimates of what they would pay after a merger.

“‘Estimated’ is almost too definite of a word,” OCCSA merger committee representative Leila Forbes said.

According to the presentation, OSA schools pay $1.16 per student and OCCSA schools pay $0.41. After three years, all schools will pay $0.81 per student for the membership to the SSA.

Lane students would pay one fee after the merger instead of two, which committee members say will save them money. But because the SSA will have higher overhead than OCCSA, some of the community colleges will pay more than 10 times their current dues.

Associated Students of Lane Community College Communications Director Robert Schumacher said there is a risk these estimated fees will rise because of low enrollment projections for several campuses and some community colleges’ small transportation budgets. Schumacher, who is Lane’s OCCSA board member, said some of the community colleges are facing the risk of losing their federal financial aid. These campuses may lose funding because they might be facing the third year in which their students’ default rates on Stafford loans exceed 30 percent.

“Those campuses would not have any access to Stafford loans or to any Pell grants.You would, of course, have a huge decrease in enrollment,” Schumacher said, citing this as a factor in the increase of the cost per student.

OCCSA approached OSA about merging. OCCSA would gain access to more staff members and services, while OSA would more than triple the number of legislators it can lobby. OCCSA only has one staff member serving 16 campuses.

OCCSA representative Lizzy Atwood-Willis said that under the current proposal, there would be four caucuses: campus presidents; Oregon Students of Color Coalition representatives; Oregon Students Equal Rights Alliance representatives which is OSA’s sexuality and gender equality branch; and a legislative caucus. Each campus’ equivalent to each position would be the representative voting member in the caucus if the exact position does not exist at the school yet.

“Each campus will get four votes (in general assembly) based on those caucus spaces,” Atwood-Willis said during the presentation.

Schumacher expressed concern that under the current proposal, there would be more than 80 people participating in the general assembly and that a smaller delegation would be more effective.

A member of the gallery said some of the community colleges have no equivalency to an OSCC or OSERA representative, and would therefore have fewer votes.

“There is definitely going to be an imbalance towards the start,” Schumacher said. “There might be a possibility of having somebody sit in on those roles even though they don’t officially hold the position in their student association at their campus.”

SSA would have four regional directors. In addition, each campus has the option to pay to have its own campus organizer.

“Essentially, this model is to increase direct services to member schools — specifically, the time that (schools) see staff members on our campuses,” Southern Oregon University OSCC co-chair Jazmin Roque said.

Lane is one of four schools that currently has a campus organizer, Brittany MacPherson. Associated Students of Lane Community College Vice President Anayeli Jimenez wrote in an email that for the current school year, Lane paid $35,830 to get MacPherson.

OSA and OCCSA will meet again in May to decide if the merger will go through.