Dr. Avery wants to offer tuition help

By Chloe Wilhelm - Staff Reporter

Presidential finalist Dr. Lisa Avery said she would like to make free tuition a reality for Highline students if she becomes the college's next president.

Dr. Avery, who became the president of Portland Community College's Sylvania campus in 2015, was named last as one of three finalists for Highline's presidential search last week.

She spoke at several forums on Monday to meet community members, students, faculty and staff and hear their questions and comments.

Dr. Avery said that she is interested in developing a financial aid program at Highline known as the Promise program.

Her home state of Oregon currently provides a Promise program for community college students based on financial need, with awards ranging from $1,000 to $3,540 per year.

Students typically use grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid first, with the Promise program covering the remaining cost.

One challenge Dr. Avery noted was having enough funding to support all eligible students.

"In Oregon, our initial allocation was $10 million, which sounds like a lot, but was spent very quickly," she said. "Finding a sustainable funding structure is a big challenge, in order to make sure that we could truly fulfill the promises made to students."

However, Dr. Avery said that she would like to implement a Promise program at Highline if the funding can be found.

"I think it would be wonderful to implement a Highline Promise," she said. "[It] would expand the access to affordable, outstanding higher education to a group that is in danger of being 'priced out' of college because of tuition."

Dr. Avery said that another goal is to help Highline's international programs and create study abroad opportunities.

"Highline has been a leader in international programs," she said.

She explained that after building a study abroad program from the ground up as an instructor, she wants to use her experience to assist Highline's international programs.

"[I want] comprehensive internationalism, so every student can have a global experience," she said.

Dr. Avery said she was drawn to Highline because of its diversity and commitment to help students succeed.

She said that her interest in Highline began after meeting former Highline president Dr. Jack Bermingham while working with international students in China.

She said that Dr. Bermingham's passion for diversity and inclusion led her to become interested in Highline, and fit with her goals in promoting equity and inclusion.

"I felt like it called me to come here," she said.

She said that these values are important to her because of her own personal experiences, such as coming out as gay in rural Indiana in the 1980s.

Dr. Avery said that it was a difficult experience, and said that it is important to make sure students know they are welcomed and accepted.

"[We] need to break down barriers and let people know that they can make it," she said.

Along with diversity, Dr. Avery said that she is committed to increasing students' access to higher education.

"Access to affordable, high-quality education is the social justice issue of our time," she said.

"My mission is to eliminate poverty," Dr. Avery said. "It's why I work in higher education, and in the community college sector in particular."

She said she would like to focus on increasing low graduation and completion rates, which have disproportionately impacted low-income students, particularly students of color.

She said that even though Highline's student body is 74 percent students of color, current graduation rates don't reflect this.

"I won't be satisfied until graduation has 74 percent people of color, and it doesn't," she said. "People need to have systems and policy in place to help them succeed."

Dr. Avery said that one way of helping students succeed is through the use of open educational resources, which are freely accessible and licensed materials, such as free textbooks.

She criticized the high prices of textbooks, and said that they are "absolutely unacceptable."

She said that she wants to provide an open educational resource option for students, and possibly designate low-cost classes so students can know ahead of time if they can afford the class.

One issue that was brought up was math placement testing, which has proved to be difficult for some students.

Dr. Avery said that it is difficult for students to place into math classes needed for graduation, which is an issue that has disproportionately impacted male students who are African American and Latino.

"It's been a nationwide issue," she said. "I see it as an issue of alignment."

Dr. Avery said that she wants to provide scholarships and make sure students can be in the most rigorous math class that is still beneficial for their educational goals.

"We have to address some of the financial barriers for students," she said. "This is only going to get worse."

In addition, Dr. Avery said that she is also focused on helping students with disabilities succeed by providing fair access and opportunity.

"We have to serve all students where they are [and] make sure they have all the resources they need," she said. "We would not be doing our job if we weren't prepared in that way."

Dr. Avery said that she also wants to utilize Highline's partnership with Central Washington University to help students transfer and pursue bachelor's degrees.

"[This program allows] people [to] not only get a four-year degree, but also a graduate degree," she said. "There is a tremendous opportunity for students to start and finish here."

Along with supporting current students, Dr. Avery said that she wants to help students after college by partnering with employers and focusing on apprenticeships, internships, and technical experience.

"I think our employer partnerships will become more important going forward," she said. "[We] want to provide real-world training."

While Dr. Avery has worked in administration for almost 10 years, she feels her work as a professor gives her a better understanding of how the administration effects the faculty.

She taught at the University of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Washington University, where she was a professor in the School of Social Work and Human Services.

"I was a full-time teacher for 10 years," she said. "I know what it's like to be faculty."

She said that some of the issues she would like to focus on at Highline is addressing interim and vacant positions, improving infrastructure, and increasing enrollment.

While addressing concerns about the impact of a new president, Dr. Avery said that she does not want to come to Highline to change the college or its culture.

"I think it's a mistake for someone to come in and reorganize everything," she said.

Dr. Avery said that if given the opportunity to become president, she would focus on authenticity, relationships, and connecting with students, staff, and faculty.

She said that she believes that she is a good fit for Highline.

"Where Highline is going in terms of its core themes… is absolutely in my wheelhouse," she said. "It would be a wonderful long-term commitment."

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