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Growing Up

COCC celebrates 50 years on the butte



When Ron Bryant first enrolled at Central Oregon Community College back in 1955, he chose the college for the same reason many students do today.

"It was within driving distance and it was affordable," recalls Bryant, a Redmond attorney who previously chaired the COCC board and now serves as the college's legal counsel. "I wanted to continue the education, but I didn't have the ability or funds to go to a four-year college."

Today's students, however, may not hold the same definition of "driving distance." Bryant made the drive from Madras each day to attend classes in the college's original home—the basement of Bend High School.

Though the school was small, and his commute was long, Bryant participated in a number of conventional collegiate activities. A journalism major, he served as a founding editor of The Broadside student newspaper, worked on the yearbook staff, sang with the Night Hawk choir, and played on the basketball team.

"It was really small, probably a little step up from high school," he recalls fondly. That meant small class sizes, plenty of interaction with instructors, and a graduating class of just six students.

But like the college, Bryant grew up and went on to greater accomplishments. He finished his bachelor's at Lewis and Clark College and got his law degree from Northwestern College of Law in Portland. By the time he returned to Redmond to practice law in 1964, COCC was on the verge of its own big move—the establishment of the campus on Awbrey Butte.

The move was made possible by a 140-acre land donation from the Coats family, who would go on to be one of the largest landowners in the region. Though they chose to remain anonymous at the time of the donation, the family will be recognized in a ceremony celebrating COCC's 50th anniversary of the Bend campus on May 14 from 4 to 7 pm.

It was around this time that Bryant reconnected with the college, serving on the board of the COCC Foundation, where he helped launch scholarship programs. From there, he ran for a position on the college's board, serving as chair during the 25th anniversary of the school's formation.

"The campus, having moved from a high school building to up there, it was more of a college experience," Bryant recalls. "It was beginning to grow up."

That growth has required the college to remain agile, shifting effortlessly to accommodate changing needs and resources. During the 1990s, the college boasted robust arts programming.

Cameron Clark, founder of C3 Events, came to COCC in 1990 with experience as both a student event programmer and a college administrator. After connecting with then director of student activities Mike Smith, Clark began programming and managing arts and cultural events on campus.

"We had a very innovative independent contract that 'outsourced' most of the on and off campus student arts/events to C3 Events to program and manage," Clark explains. "Part of our contract required us to train, advise, and hire COCC students to work on all of these events—which we loved."

The contract ran from 1992 to 2005 and produced, on average, more than 30 arts-related events each academic year. These included lectures, emerging artists and musicians, films, and comedians, as well as some big name visitors including Maya Angelou, Ralph Nader, Tim Wise, and Winona LaDuke.

But that was a different time, Clark explains.

"The campus was truly a hub for the arts for this community during this era," he says. "There was no Tower Theatre, and the college was using the arts, constructing a very tangible bridge between itself and the community at large—both students and non students."

Eventually, funding for that collaboration dried up, explains College Relations Director Ron Paradis, who has been with COCC for 23 years.

"We're very comprehensive and try to be everything for everybody, but you can't always do that," Paradis explains, noting that Oregon ranks 47th in the country for public funding of higher education. As a result, he explains, sometimes programs get cut and tuition goes up.

But that doesn't mean the college has been atrophying. Where some programs have downsized or gone by the wayside, others have emerged to replace them. In the past decade or two, he explains, the college has increased its offering of technical programs in response to the employment needs of the region.

Among those newer programs are medical assisting, dental assisting, massage therapy, pharmacy technician, veterinary technician, aviation, and expanded offerings in nursing and automotive.

In that sense, the college continues to serve as a connecting point between high school and either the working world, or further higher education. And many of those affiliated with the college say it's a point of distinction between community colleges and four-year universities.

"I think it's a lot different. The main kind of purpose [of community college] is to reach students and others who cannot afford to go away or afford to go to a big college. Those are expensive things to do," COCC counsel Bryant says. "I looked at it as being a bridge, between four years of high school and four years of college."

Bryant, who attended COCC in the 1950s, says all three of his children attended and graduated from COCC before transferring to four-year schools. Today, two are lawyers, and one is a supervisor with the Deschutes County Mental Health Department.

Even as OSU-Cascades emerges as a fully-fledged four-year university, Paradis says he doesn't see COCC changing much.

"We assume we'll shift a bit, but a comprehensive community colleges offers a number of things four-year universities don't," he explains. Paradis says he anticipates a dip in enrollment as some students choose to start their academic careers at OSU-Cascades rather than COCC, but he expects many will still take advantage of the two-plus-two opportunity the two schools present.

Ultimately, he says, the college will remain true to its mission to be affordable and accessible, and will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of future generations—academic, cultural, and otherwise.

"We've been here for 65 years and have become a critical part in the community in a number of ways, including some of the cultural aspects," Paradis says, "and we'll continue to do those things."

Then and Now

COCC in 1965 and today


1965: 700

2015: 6,458 (fall term credit headcount)

Average age of credit students

1965: unknown

2015: 29

Number of campus buildings

1965: Five

2015: 26 in Bend, four in Redmond and one each in Madras and Prineville

Size of campus in acres

1965: 150 acres

2015: 202 plus 25 in Redmond, 18 in Madras and a building in Prineville

Number of faculty

1965: 35 full time and 67 part time

2015: 124 full time and about 280 part time

Percent of full-time faculty holding Ph.D. or terminal degrees

1965: unknown

2015: about 35 percent

Number of programs offered

1965: 31

2015: 55

Male/female students

1974: 64 percent / 36 percent

2015: 45 percent / 55 percent

Students of color

1965: unknown

2015: about 15 percent

Students over 25

1965: unknown

2015: about 47 percent


1965: $12 per credit and $90 per term if full time

2015: $87 per credit and $1,305 per term if full time


1964-65: 39 degrees and 15 certificates

2013-14: 908 degrees and 298 certificates

About The Author

Erin Rook

Erin is the Source Weekly's Associate Editor. Before moving to Bend in 2013, Erin worked as a writer and editor for publications in Portland including PQ Monthly and Just Out. He has also written for the Willamette Week, El Hispanic News, Travel Portland, OUT City, Boston magazine and the Taunton Daily Gazette...

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