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The new Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University Higher Education Center (HEC) in downtown Medford, is the first project of its kind in Oregon.

Inspired by Governor Ted Kulongoski, the HEC is a state-of-the-art facility trying to create a brand new academic culture. The goal is to successfully integrate Rogue Community College and SOU students into one learning environment so transition is seamless from a two- to four-year degree.

The HEC offers bachelors and master's degree programs, as well as certificates. Located in downtown Medford, one goal is to serve working students by offering more than 50 classes on evenings and weekends. Not all SOU programs are offered at HEC but some include business, psychology, and human services as well as a great selection of general education and minor requirements. It plans to expand its offerings with other courses and programs as demand grows.

The result of this collaboration is a facility that may better serve students and the business community, helping ensure students at both institutions have more efficient class scheduling, smaller class sizes and personalized education, increased communication, and centralized services, according to the HEC website. The building also hosts many amenities beneficial to the community in Medford, including conference rooms as well as serving as a business hub.

The 68,700-square-foot, three-story building is scheduled for completion by fall of 2008, when it will open for classes. The building is located in the block bound by East Eighth, Ninth and South Bartlett streets and South Riverside Avenue. The center includes classrooms, a lecture hall, science labs, computer labs, and offices, as well as an atrium-style entryway at the main entrance, which welcome students and visitors on the corner of Eighth and Bartlett.

((The new facility was designed by SERA Architects Inc. of Portland; the contract manager/general contractor is Adroit Construction Co., of Ashland. The concept involved faculty and staff from both RCC and SOU, planners from the city and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency (MURA), community members, and the mayor of Medford.))

Sharing one facility saves the two institutions on operating costs and avoids duplication of resources.

"We are tremendously pleased with the results," said Margaret Bradford, director of marketing and community relations. "This project can really help benefit students who complete RCC transition to SOU by staying in one location."

Security funding for the building was a top legislative priority for the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in 2005, and it has received support from many other areas of the community. Total cost of the project will be $22.2 million, with each school contributing $11.1 million. According to the HEC website, RCC's share includes $4.1 million in state bonding authority, plus $7 million in local bonds approved by Jackson County voters in 2005. SOU's share includes $5.5 million in state bonding authority and $3 million in state funding, plus $2.6 million in locally raised matching funds.

Currently the SOU Medford Campus operates in seven sites around the city, which are borrowed or leased. The Mary Phipps building where all administration is located is small, poorly located, and run down. The maintenance is expensive and the classroom capacity is at maximum. Students and faculty must travel around town to the different sites, which is very inconvenient. The RCC Riverside Campus operated in over seven separate buildings, three of which are leased, and all of which are retrofitted facilities. The new building allows RCC to terminate those leases and save the overall cost of renting space.

According to the HEC site, approximately one-third of the space is operated by both institutions to provide shared services, such as a Welcome Center to help students make smooth transitions from RCC to SOU, and the Business Center, serving both institutions' business partners and the remaining space is divided equally between RCC and SOU for programs and services unique to each institution, while continuing the practice of sharing spaces and resources for maximum effectiveness.

The schools have promised that complete funding comes from the state and local bonds and fundraising, and any tuition increases incurred in the future are not related to the cost of the new building or its services. The new building came as a surprise to many, especially after SOU cut academic programs due to budget restrictions; however everyone involved remains optimistic.

"This project is crucial for the future of higher education in our region," said SOU President Mary Cullinan. "This building represents our investment in the future of Southern Oregon. Our higher education center will foster valuable community partnerships while helping us reach out to a broad array of students," Cullinan added.

Classes start Sept. 29.

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