Articles & Updates

V5I2: Portland Community College’s Reorganization

Dec. 8, 2022 ⋅ Categories: Beacon


In 2016, when now retired Mark Mitsui became the seventh president of Portland Community College (PCC), he did what many new presidents do – he toured the district and held a number of Town Halls to listen to the needs of a college community and understand its culture. He heard the voices of hundreds of staff and faculty, filled with heart and passion for serving the students in PCC’s vast district. It was clear that employees were dedicated to equity and student success. This care and compassion were hard to reconcile with the College’s low and inequitable completion rates.

PCC serves approximately 50,000 students annually, both online and in-person at four comprehensive campuses and 10 centers in a district that spans five counties across the Portland Metro area. The College employs more than 2,500 individuals, offers nearly 100 academic programs, and is the largest postsecondary institution in the state of Oregon. Its sheer size has enabled PCC to produce large numbers of graduates each year. However, the College’s IPEDS graduation rate has been low relative to other community colleges, and completion and retention rates have been inequitable. This backdrop served as the catalyst for PCC to focus on opportunity and equitable student success.

PCC has developed several specialized programs over the past number of years to improve completion rates that reflect greater equity. Future Connect, Gateway to College, Yes to College, PDX Bridge, Career Pathways, and several federal programs are examples of what has been implemented to achieve these goals. Each year these programs help hundreds of students cross the academic finish line and graduate because of the programs’ focus on holistic strategies around student support. However, attempts to scale these programs for thousands of students who need the same type of holistic support encountered institutional barriers such as cost, process and structure.

During President Mitsui’s tenure, PCC engaged in a year and a half-long study on its organizational structure. This study included input from hundreds of stakeholders across the College and resulted in a decision to reorganize the institution in order to truly move forward with a “One College for Equitable Student Success” model.

Under the old organizational structure and culture, any large-scale attempt to implement a promising practice – like Guided Pathways and assigning students to dedicated academic advisors – was challenging. The previous structure featured four distinct, “vertical” reporting lines, one for each campus, with multiple “horizontal” committees trying to coordinate work across the entire college district. Each campus or location-based team had different levels of engagement in various initiatives based on differing priorities at each campus or location. This made it difficult to scale throughout the College; a true “through line” was hard to maintain and to which people could be accountable.

The first phase of the reorganization focused on Academic and Student Affairs. Faculty across all four campuses and centers now report through carefully determined lines and levels to a single Vice President of Academic Affairs, while all student affairs staff report to a single Vice President of Student Affairs. After the reorganization, many initiatives accelerated and launched. While the idea of assigning academic advisors to individual students had been in the works for several years, the reorganization catapulted the creation of systems needed to support assigned advising. The reorganization also allowed for the addition of a platform to improve benefits access and integrating public benefits through Single Stop technology, something that would have been exceedingly difficult before the restructure.

The reorganization of PCC is more than a change in reporting lines – it is about the systemic examination and improvement of systems and processes to ensure that the College is moving toward equitable student outcomes. During his time with PCC, President Mitsui described the College structure and culture using the metaphor of a large ship. The PCC ship was divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant was defined by watertight bulkheads and ran vertically up and down the decks of the ship, so that each deck was separated into four sections. Each quadrant had a skipper and a rudder, although theoretically, they reported to a single captain on the bridge. As such, while this ship navigated a variety of different conditions (waves of change, storms, calm waters), the direction of the ship was not strategic but rather the result of the force vectors from five sets of rudders competing for influence.

If we think of students as passengers on this ship, about 40% of the passengers would move among the quadrants, in search of service. And each quadrant would do their best to serve each passenger. Yet the passengers’ experiences were often different because each quadrant competed for fuel, crew members and more passengers. Most importantly, only a relatively small percentage of the PCC ship’s passengers arrived at their destination.

Through the reorganization, the College has begun to take down the bulkheads to allow for a more streamlined and supportive approach to getting students to their destination. In and of itself, changing reporting lines won’t impact equitable student outcomes without a change in culture. Policies, procedures, practices, and ways in which communities are re-engaged also need to change in order to improve results.

The imperative that this type of transformative change is truly centered on the changing needs of the communities PCC serves. The birth dearth statistics – decreasing populations of traditional-aged college students – means that PCC and other community colleges must pivot toward adult learners. Changes in the workforce and workplace environments that began prior to the start of the pandemic have continued to place pressures and new expectations on how to best serve working adult students. In the Portland Metro area, housing displacement continues to push the communities PCC has traditionally served to the outer edges of its service district.

Staying relevant, nimble, and continuing to cultivate a sense of belonging are themes that will continue to require bold action and thoughtful, strategic implementation. In July 2022, PCC welcomed its eighth president, Dr. Adrien L. Bennings, the College’s first permanent female president, to lead the College in doing just that.

Prior to arriving at PCC, Dr. Bennings served as the president of Kellogg Community College, one of 28 community colleges in Michigan, as well as president of its Foundation where she led strategic planning and fundraising activities. Before this, Dr. Bennings was the vice president of administration and finance and chief financial officer at Clovis Community College in New Mexico, following her service as the regional director of small business development at Texas Tech University.

Dr. Bennings arrived to PCC with clearly articulated beliefs and values:

  1. That students are the priority; they are core to PCC’s mission and purpose.
  2. That faculty is vital to the student learning experience, to ensure PCC yields high quality outcomes for students.
  3. That staff are integral to the student experience, and that PCC must support continuous innovation, improvement and top quality “customer service” for students.
  4. That the community at large is PCC’s indispensable partner to advance student success, which leads to investment in the workforce when newly minted educated and skilled PCC graduates fill industry labor gaps.
  5. And finally, that PCC’s elected Board of Directors continues to be an ally and driving force behind the College’s success and ability to meet the evolving needs of students, business and industry in the Portland Metro region.

Like other community colleges around the country, PCC has been impacted by the global pandemic in terms of an enrollment decline and changing delivery systems to meet students’ evolving needs, which include online, hybrid and/or in-person coursework. Enrollment shriveled when classes went online at the start of the pandemic and stayed low as a booming job market enticed potential students into the workforce.

The extent that enrollment rebounded this fall varies from college to college. But across the state, educators are noticing similar trends in which students are returning, which beg the question of how they should position themselves to best serve Oregonians as the pandemic recedes.

Dr. Bennings sees this as an opportunity to apply her RISE philosophy: To Rise with the Intention to Serve in Excellence, every day. In doing so, PCC will back its strategic plan focused on Belonging, Delivery, Workforce and Enterprise, which supports PCC’s one-college model, or as Dr. Bennings calls it “One Together. Together One,” so that the College aligns itself across its many campuses and workforce training centers to deliver on PCC’s strategic plan goals, and to be connected as one for PCC students and the College overall.

This includes a stronger in-person presence by faculty and staff at PCC campuses and centers than in the past two-plus years. This contributes to an invigorated and re-energized College, and in a post-pandemic environment, PCC needs a re-energized sense of place and community to thrive – to support one another, and students in their journey. This is the “why” that connects all of PCC, by way of flexible workplace modalities that creates a culture of belonging and wellbeing.

With the drop in PCC’s enrollment, Dr. Bennings is prioritizing a refinement of the College’s strategic enrollment management (SEM) plan that connects the K-12 pipeline to community college, as well a proactive outreach to prospective adult learners. The climate now is an opportunity for PCC to ask itself what can be done differently? How can PCC better meet the needs of prospective students? How does the College enhance its flexible learning modalities? Answers to these questions influence and clarify PCC’s SEM framework and outreach. The refined SEM version also recognizes strength and value of community and business partnerships and their influence on career technical education – and the opportunities created for students because of that connection.

Dr. Bennings’ strategy to tackle challenges felt by PCC is known as AIMM – Alignment, Integration, Momentum and Measure. AIMM can be defined as:

  1. Alignment: Leverage the collective knowledge of employees, directors, students, and College leadership to develop actionable plans that all stakeholders understand and support.
  2. Integration: Ensure ongoing organizational development and assessment of operations, policies and processes, and systems; identify achievable priorities and advance ongoing strategic action plans.
  3. Momentum: Clarify, define, and articulate immediate priorities; coordinate internal and external communication strategies; guide progress on current priorities and initiatives; facilitate continuous planning for long-term success in all areas.
  4. Measure: Continuous assessment and evaluation of goals, progress, and anticipated outcomes.

This work will continue to evolve over Dr. Bennings’ time at PCC, in support of the College’s reorganization and its commitment to the student experience. She has developed goals and objectives to build on the foundation developed by President Mitsui, that are tied to PCC’s current strategic plan. They represent 10 initiatives essential to higher education administration and operations at PCC, with tactics and key activities fulfilling specific goals.

Focus: President’s Transition
Strategic Theme: Enterprise: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Focus: Equitable Student Success
Strategic Theme: Delivery: Redefine time, place, and systems of educational delivery to create a more learner-centric ecosystem

Key Stakeholders: VP Academic Affairs, VP Student Affairs, Dean of Enrollment Strategy & Service, Associated Students of Portland Community College (ASPCC), and District Student Council (DSC)

Key Stakeholders: EVP Administration & Finance, AVP Finance, Bursar Treasurer, and various groups as needed

Focus: Re-organizational Alignment
Strategic Theme: Enterprise: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Key Stakeholders: VP Academic Affairs, VP Student Affairs, EVP Administration & Finance, Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Focus: Accreditation
Strategic Theme: Belonging: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Key Stakeholders: VP Academic Affairs, VP Student Affairs, EVP Administration & Finance

Focus: Governance
Strategic Theme: Enterprise: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Key Stakeholders: President’s Cabinet, Board of Directors

Focus: Budget & Fiscal Sustainability
Strategic Theme: Enterprise: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Key Stakeholders: President’s Cabinet, EVP Administration & Finance, Director of Communications, Board of Directors, AVP Finance

Focus: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Strategic Theme: Belonging: Transform PCC’s learning culture toward creating a sense of belonging and well-being for every student

Key Stakeholders: Interim Chief Diversity Officer, VP teams, President’s Cabinet, Office of Equity & Inclusion, Affinity Groups

Focus: Operations & Planning
Strategic Theme: Enterprise: Cultivate a long-term sustainable College enterprise

Key Stakeholders: All functional areas of the institution

Focus: Community Partnerships
Strategic Theme: Workforce: Respond to community and workforce needs by developing a culture of agility

Key Stakeholders: Government Relations, Community Relations, Opportunity Council, Various Institutional Members, PCC employees

Focus: People & Culture
Strategic Theme: Belonging: Transform our learning culture toward creating a sense of belonging and well-being for every student

Key Stakeholders: All areas of the institution

PCC is not without challenges in its future – yet its future looks bright. The College has a new leader whose thoughtful vision for opportunities and enhancement builds on the foundation laid by her predecessor, who prioritized the student experience and equitable student success above all else. Producing skilled, educated and diverse graduates – and bettering its completion and graduation rankings – enables PCC to shine brightly as it delivers on its mission to serve students and the greater community that relies on the College.


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