Mark Mitsui, President of PCC, offers Reassurance to All.

On March 28th, before anyone was fully awake, I walked through a series of cubicles in a temporary office complex at PCC’s Sylvania campus to meet with Mark Mitsui. His office was just past a table covered with fresh fruit and donuts. He greeted me warmly.

Me and Mr. Mitsui in his office.

Mark Mitsui was officially named President of PCC on September 1st, 2016. Before that, he was president of North Seattle College and also worked in the Department of Education under the Obama administration. So what I’m saying is, he’s no stranger to higher education.

His office, at least his temporary one, was closed to the left by a large brick wall, where hung a couple certificates and photos. He had a small table with a few chairs. It was modest. He was very easy to talk to.

Mr. Mitsui was invited by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s 1st district, which includes Washington County and parts of SW Portland, to attend President Trump’s joint address to Congress in D.C. on February 28th.

He was honored to accept the invitation, stating that the two of them share a firm support of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Science, known collectively as STEAM, an offshoot of STEM, which integrates art into systems of educational approach and access points. He wanted to represent Portland Community College in D.C. and show his support for all students in Oregon at the national level.

In D.C., Mr. Mitsui attended a few congressional events, among them the Joint Address. At one of them, he was able to take a few moments to speak with Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader. To me, he seemed humble and nonchalant about the encounter, but I could tell that it had meant a lot to him.

During President Trump’s speech, Mr. Mitsui felt concern when he heard the President’s plan to raise defense spending, while cutting the funding in the education sector.

“The biggest concern, of course, is the Pell Grant,” he said. The Pell Grant is a need-based Federal program that offers grants to students that qualify based on income.

“There is an organization called the Association of Community College Trustees, and they have been pushing for a new way to spend the surplus that the Pell Grant has accrued in the form of a Summer Pell Grant. This would allow students to attend school year-round, and therefore graduate faster.”

I asked how the newly released federal budget proposal would affect those plans.

He said, “well, the only immediate effect would be no Summer Pell, but it has to pass the House first.”

He seemed hopeful that it wouldn’t, at least not in its current form. According to Inside Higher Education, “Restoring year-round Pell Grant funding has been a bipartisan goal since 2011.”

With the new budget buzzing around, I had my concerns about the stance the college took to become a sanctuary campus. He assured me that the move to name the college a sanctuary campus, while indeed politicized, was also “rooted in a federal law that we already follow.”

He cleared his throat and then began to speak, looking up and to the right. “The sanctuary status essentially just reinforces the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which states that we won’t give away any students’ private information without a subpoena.” He added, “we aren’t breaking any federal laws.”

Shortly after his visit to D.C., Mr. Mitsui sent out a letter to the students and staff of PCC, stating: “With more at stake than ever before, and fewer public funds to cover costs, now is the time to speak up and speak out for PCC.” I asked him to elaborate on that statement. He was happy to oblige.

“We have a goal of increasing the budget for higher education in Oregon from around 550 million, depending on who you ask (and on what day) — ” he paused and we both laughed “ — to 674 million. That would allow us, in a year or so, to review the tuition hike that was voted on recently, and for the second half of the biennial, maybe cut that back some, which would be great for the students.”

Again, he seemed hopeful, but not unaware of the struggles ahead.

Overall my experience with the president was very reassuring. He seemed confident that the trials ahead were ones that we as a community will be able to overcome. A series of town hall meetings will be conducted by him in mid-April, where he will be rolling out a work plan for comment. The focus will be an opportunity for students, the elimination of disparity among marginalized students, and working with local employers to find students good¸ well-paying careers after graduation.

He finished by noting, “The average age here at PCC is twenty-nine. These students have jobs, families, a life outside of school. It is our responsibility in the higher education sector to help get them to the next tier, in the fields of IT, and Healthcare, and much more.”

This story was originally published by The Bridge PCC’s student newspaper. You can read the original here.

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