Photos and Story by James Hill

The Portland Community College Foundation’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign is receiving its largest gift.

Led by local philanthropists Irving Levin and Stephanie Fowler, The Renaissance Foundation has donated $500,000 to the PCC Foundation’s “Campaign for Opportunity.” The grant focuses on growing innovative workforce development programs at PCC and will leverage additional federal reimbursement to support and grow the SNAP 50/50 Training Employment Program (STEP) — a statewide consortium of community colleges led by PCC.

“We believe community colleges are a vital gateway to educational opportunity, especially for those with fewer financial resources,” said Fowler.

Levin agreed and said, “PCC has a long track record in developing creative partnerships. We are hopeful that this gift will leverage opportunity in many ways.”

STEP’s goal is to increase college access, completion, and career opportunities for low-income students around Oregon. The funds will go toward hiring additional staff members in STEP to assist students who are receiving food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It will also boost recruitment and outreach to hundreds of additional eligible students.

Programs like STEP are vital. In Oregon, there are 442,000 adults who are older than 25, don’t have postsecondary degrees, are unemployed, and/or are working for $15 or less per hour.

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time, and the Renaissance Foundation’s generous gift of support for PCC’s workforce programs, like STEP, will help provide a bridge out of poverty for many Oregonians,” said PCC President Mark Mitsui.

Students in STEP have many opportunities to cross that bridge. They can enroll in adult basic skills, career and technical education, and have access to more than 50 career pathways that lead to jobs and degrees. These students also receive holistic coaching and connections to resources that have resulted in a completion rate of 90 percent in programs such as welding, manufacturing, healthcare and others.

“STEP increases equitable student success and economic mobility by connecting students to college programs that lead to living-wage, middle-skill jobs,” said Marc Goldberg, PCC’s associate vice president for Workforce Development and Continuing Education. “This also helps to close the skills gap and meets the needs of industry for a diverse and skilled workforce.”

The Renaissance Foundation was created in 2000 and has provided philanthropic support in Oregon and the United States.

PCC Foundation’s “Campaign for Opportunity” has set out to raise $30 million to support student success by June 30, 2020. The campaign has four focus areas — scholarships, urgent need, student mentoring and workforce development. To find out more, contact the PCC Foundation at (971) 722-4382 or visit

For more information about PCC’s STEP program, contact Kate Kinder, director of Career Pathways and Skills Training, at (971) 722-6271 or