OSU-Cascades receives funding for Student Success Center

Pictured is Taha Elwefati, president of the Associated Students of Cascades Campus. The ASCC and students were involved in the legislative process that allowed for funding for a new Student Success Center to be approved for the Oregon State University Cascades campus in Bend, Ore.

Quentin Comus, OSU-Cascades Beat Reporter

After more than two years of lobbying, the Oregon State Legislature approved $13.8 million in state-backed bonds to construct a Student Success Center on Oregon State University’s Cascades campus.

First introduced in the Oregon State Senate on Jan. 11, Senate Bill 5505 includes over $2 trillion in general obligation bonds for state agency capital construction projects in the 2021–2023 biennium, or fiscal years.

After being recommended “do pass with amendments” by the Joint Committee On Ways and Means, SB 5505 passed both chambers of Oregon’s legislature with bipartisan support on June 26.

In the bill, Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission received a total of $521 million in bonds to finance 21 capital construction projects for public universities and community colleges across the state.

Of the approved projects, OSU-Cascades will receive $13.8 million in funding to construct a Student Success Center on their Bend, Ore. campus that will include space for academic advising, studying and tutoring, health and counseling services, a multicultural center, recreation programs and student organizations.

This is a victory for central Oregon, said OSU-Cascades Interim Vice President Dr. Andrew Ketsdever.

“Securing funding for the Student Success Center not only means designing and building a home exclusively dedicated to these important student services, but it also means campus development will keep pace with our growing enrollment,” Ketsdever said. “It’s a sign of the momentum underway at OSU’s campus in Bend as we continue to serve the region and state.”

He added that students have been “deeply involved” in the campus expansion at OSU-Cascades including providing input in 2017 when the university embarked on a long range development planning effort. 

According to Ketsdever, feedback from students helped determine the need for a Student Success Center and the financial plan necessary to make it a reality.

This financial plan included a $5 million commitment from students themselves by means of student fees, something Ketsdever said was impactful in the Oregon legislature.

“Beginning in 2018, legislators heard directly from OSU-Cascades students how they committed $5 million in student fees to the Student Success Center project as an investment in future generations of students,” Ketsdever said. “Students voiced why that contribution was important, even though many of them will have graduated before the building is complete.”

While the project was generally well-received in the Oregon legislature, a Republican-led walkout during the 2019 Regular Session and challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020 Special Session delayed approval of funding for the Student Success Center for two years.

Nonetheless, Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) is pleased the project was fully-funded during this most recent legislative session.

“I met with OSU-Cascades students, faculty, administration and supporters many times over the past few years to plan the best way to lobby our support for the Student Success Center,” Knopp said. “This session we were able to convince leadership it was time to fund it. You must persevere when advocating for a project like this, and our group never gave up.”

Community leaders from groups including Now4 OSU-Cascades, the Bend Chamber, Economic Development for Central Oregon and OSU’s Beaver Caucus were at the forefront of the lobbying effort for the Student Success Center.

Students were also heavily involved in the legislative process, according to Associated Students of Cascades Campus Director of Legislative Affairs Madeline “Mads” Gwynn, who planned several advocacy events at the Oregon Capitol over the last year.

“[Students] attended advocacy days, wrote letters and discussed it with their peers,” said Gwynn, a junior majoring in American studies at OSU-Cascades. “We’ve spent a lot of time attempting to secure a better future for our college, which I would say is a pretty amazing thing.”

Now, with state funding in hand, the university will look to secure a design and architecture firm to lead a year-long planning effort for the building, said OSU-Cascades Associate Vice President of Finance and Strategic Planning Kelly Sparks.

“We will collaboratively finalize key values and goals for the Student Success Center in a final scope of work that will be consistent with our budget,” Sparks said. “The scope should reflect our commitments to social justice, sustainability and innovation. Then, over the following academic year we will finalize the building program and design, with a goal to construct and open the building in the 2023–2024 academic year.”

According to Sparks, while the Student Success Center is OSU-Cascades’s most recent legislative victory, university leaders are already planning for their next phase of campus expansion.

“OSU-Cascades planners will re-assess future campus needs this fall in collaboration with faculty, staff and students,” Sparks said. “The current focus is on land remediation to create a site for future academic buildings and for a future health and recreation sciences building. The latter would house health-related academic programs and research, as well as a recreation and sports center for growing on-campus student engagement.”