Supporting Education in Lakeview
FROM THE 2020 TOP REPORT “CORNERSTONES: ECONOMIC MOBILITY AND BELONGING IN OREGON”
Lake County is Oregon’s third-largest county geographically and 30th largest in population.1 It’s a frontier county with less than 1 person per square mile—a rugged place where life is tied to the land.
According to oral histories, tribal knowledge and archaeological evidence, Lake County may be the earliest-settled place in North America (Ogle & Chocktoot, 2018). Native people have lived in the region for at least 14,000 years, and it is the traditional home of the Paiute Snake, Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes.
Lake County today is characterized by large cattle ranches, alfalfa farms, timber holdings and high desert lands. More than three-quarters of the county is publicly owned national forest or rangeland. With just two incorporated towns, the population is 7,8792. Residents are quick to characterize the area as not just rural but remote — a place where people measure distance not in miles but in hours.
The entirety of Lake County is divided into two census tracts, which were included among Oregon’s highest-mobility tracts for children from low-income families. These tracts cover a large geographic area with diverse environments, community structures, values, people and opportunities.
In interviews and analysis, we concentrated on Lakeview (population 2,310),3 which is the largest town, the county seat and the place where most county services are concentrated.
A LONG HISTORY OF TIGHT-KNIT COMMUNITIES SUPPORTING EDUCATION
This region boasts outstanding high school graduation rates and a long tradition of support for education. Lakeview has one school district: Lake County School District #7 (LCSD). LCSD, which has 755 students enrolled,4 is one of Oregon’s geographically largest districts, covering an area of almost 1,900 square miles. The student population is 72% white, 20% Latino and 5% multiracial, reflecting the region’s changing demographics.5
“It’s really an exceptionally education-focused community when measured against other communities of the same type.”
Half of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.6 Because there is only one school system in Lakeview, all children go to the same school regardless of their family’s economic background or other factors.
In the words of one resident, “the [grocery] checkers’ kids and the doctors’ kids are together in 4H and do sports together. Lower-income kids know other people who are successful and can take advantage of those connections.”
The graduation rate at Lakeview High School has been notably high for years, especially when compared to the state’s on-time graduation rate, which was 79% in 2018–19.7 In contrast, the on-time graduation rate at Lakeview High School that same year was 91%.8 According to the Opportunity Atlas, 44% of children born in Lake County graduate from college (the 89th percentile nationally)9 as do 27% of children born into low-income families (the 92nd percentile nationally).10 What is leading to these unusually high graduation rates?
Lake County students benefit from the region’s educational endowments, which are unique in both size and longevity. The county has over $10 million in educational endowments — remarkable for a rural county, and particularly one with such a small population. These investments have bolstered a tradition of scholarship and college attendance, making college attainable for generations of residents. There is a shared understanding in the region that if young people work hard, money will be available for them to attend college. This attitude is passed down through generations of families and reinforced by teachers at all grade levels, creating a shared community identity and pride around higher education.
Lake County’s place-based scholarships include the Bernard Daly Educational Fund, the CollinsMcDonald Trust Fund (which has similar award sizes and requirements to the Daly Fund), the Ousley Educational Fund, and the Burt Snyder Fund for graduate studies. Several smaller but still notable funds support students in more remote areas, including OCF’s Anna F. Jones Educational Fund, which awards more than $40,000 annually to Paisley High School seniors. In a community with graduating classes of 15 or less, this represents a substantial investment in higher education. Together, these endowments have created unique opportunities for generations of young people.
“If someone told you that they make it possible for kids to go to college from remote areas for 100 years, wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment? Well, it’s been done.”
PROFESSOR & DEAN EMERITUS COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, OSU
The largest of Lake County’s educational endowments is the Bernard Daly Educational Fund, the nation’s oldest and longest-running place-based scholarship. It has awarded scholarships to almost 2,000 young men and women since 1922, and it currently supports over 100 students in undergraduate and advanced degree programs (LCSD, n.d.).
The power of the Daly Fund appears to come from several factors: its availability, longevity and ubiquity; the way it supports a community culture that values higher education; and the awards’ structure. The scholarship does not make college free; rather, it covers a portion (currently one-third) of the total cost, including tuition, books, and room and board. Students who work, receive other scholarships or have help from their families can cover much of the cost of their education. Historically, many fund recipients have been able to graduate debt-free, although there are growing concerns about the rapidly rising costs of education and housing.
The Daly Fund scholarship is automatically renewed each year if students maintain a minimum GPA and take a full load of coursework each term. This encourages students to continue their education uninterrupted. Earning an undergraduate degree in four years, rather than over a longer period, means that students take on less debt; this gives them greater flexibility as they enter the workforce and makes college less of a short-term financial trade-off. At Oregon’s public universities, fewer than one-third of students graduate in four years, and just over half graduate within six years. A survey of 300 Daly and Collins-McDonald fund recipients found that more than half graduated in four years, and 85% graduated within six years (Hensley, 2017).
The same survey found that fund recipients go on to achieve exceptional educational and economic outcomes. Nearly all respondents believe that the scholarships had a positive impact on their economic circumstances. More than 75% reported family incomes higher than their parents’. Half had household incomes over $100,000, and 93% had household incomes larger than the median household income in Lake County (Hensley, 2017).
It is also important to note that three-quarters of survey respondents live outside of Lake County (Hensley, 2017), which suggests that the opportunities afforded to students through these extraordinary educational endowments can be bittersweet. Although they make college attendance an option for many young people, a lack of high-paying jobs and competition from opportunities elsewhere can preclude graduates from returning to the region after graduation.
MEETING ECONOMIC CHALLENGES IN THE REGION
Lake County’s economy is based on agriculture (ranching and farming), jobs with the state and federal government, natural resource extraction, timber and a growing renewable energy industry.11 Local, state and federal government represents about 40% of jobs.12 Employment through the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management can create a more stable economic base than reliance on seasonal agriculture or timber.
As in much of Oregon, timber is less of an economic driver than it once was. In the 1980s, 1 in 5 local jobs were in the timber industry; by 2019, this had fallen to fewer than 1 in 10.13 Lakeview was once a thriving mill town, but now there is only one mill left.
Ranching remains a cornerstone for Lake County: a source of local wealth, identity and tradition. Young people who stay in the area often do so to work on family ranches. However, with a limited number of year-round, well-paying jobs available, it can be difficult to secure a living-wage job without a family connection. This means that many people — including youth from low-income families — leave the area to seek better economic opportunities, and many do not return.
Like much of rural Oregon, Lake County is experiencing a slow recovery from the Great Recession. It has a high poverty rate — especially for families with young children — and median household income is just $36,627.14 Because the cost of living is relatively low, the median household income is considered adequate for single-parent families with two children to meet the self-sufficiency standard. However, families with two adults and two children must earn at least $4,500 more than the median household income to be self-sufficient (Pearce, 2017), and many families are falling short.
The Opportunity Atlas reports that children born in Lake County grow up to attain an average household income of $47,000 (66th percentile nationally),15 and children from low-income families grow up to attain an average household income of $38,000 (75th percentile nationally).16 The discrepancies between the Opportunity Atlas findings and the median household income suggest that many children born in Lake County choose to raise their own families elsewhere. According to the Opportunity Atlas, only 1 in 4 children born in Lake County stay in the area as adults.17
CREATING NEW PATHWAYS TO ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY IN LAKE COUNTY
One promising effort to build local opportunity and access to living-wage jobs is Lakeview’s Innovation and Learning Center (ILC), which is growing the region’s skilled workforce, reinforcing its strong culture of education, and serving as an example of community leaders finding innovative solutions to local issues.
The ILC was created through an impressive set of public-private partnerships, including the Lake District Hospital, Klamath Community College (KCC), Lake County School District #7 and the Lake County Resources Initiative. Prompted by a local nursing shortage, these organizations came together in 2012 to create a groundbreaking higher education and workforce training hub and to provide economic opportunities to young people in the region. Within a year, KCC began offering courses via live video at ILC. Since then, seven students have completed the rural nursing program and now work as nurses in Lake or neighboring rural counties.
ILC’s workforce development program has expanded to meet local needs. It now includes emergency medical technician and firefighter training, dental assisting, and pharmacy tech programs, as well as apprenticeship programs for electrical, plumbing and other trades. In partnership with WorkSource Oregon, KCC has opened an employment services office in the Lake County Courthouse. Here, residents can apply for scholarships to support workforce training in a variety of fields, which is helping alleviate barriers to securing a living-wage job.
“Part of what makes Lake County unique is the carbon-neutral commitment. I think we’ll get there soon. … It’s a great example of environmentalists and the community working together, being willing to look at new things. I never thought I’d say that back during the timber wars.”
Through a partnership between ILC and the school district, Lakeview students can graduate from high school with construction labor certification, meeting another local need. The ILC also offers dual credit opportunities for high schoolers, who can earn an associate degree before high school graduation. More than 50 Lake County residents have earned associate degrees through ILC in a variety of fields, including business, criminal justice and psychology. Because of ILC’s articulation agreements with Oregon universities, some students can even stay in the community while completing a four-year degree.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES & NEW CHALLENGES
In addition to the ILC, new opportunities to support the county’s economic prospects are on the horizon. Lake County is forward-thinking in its adoption of geothermal and solar technology and in its growing commitment to carbon neutrality.
Local champions and organizations, including the Lake County Resources Initiative, have identified strategies to drive job growth while supporting environmental commitments. For example, Lake District Hospital, the ILC, Warner Creek
Correctional Facility and Lakeview schools are on the city’s geothermal grid, which not only provides substantial savings on heating and cooling costs but also has a positive impact on the environment and serves as a further model for communitywide partnerships.
Red Rock Biofuels is slated to open in Lakeview in spring 2021, bringing a new industry to the region: converting waste woody biomass (a byproduct of timber harvesting and forest restoration activities) to renewable, low-carbon jet and diesel fuels. Red Rock Biofuels is expected to create additional well-paying jobs while reducing the regional risk of forest fires. It is estimated that the renewable energy industry will generate millions of new tax dollars in Lake County over the coming years.
Still, as new economic opportunities arrive and grow in the region, existing challenges remain or are exacerbated. Chief among these is housing, which residents observe is becoming more expensive. New people moving in for economic opportunities are putting an additional squeeze on the housing market, leaving few options for residents.
The median rent in Lake County is $688, which is significantly lower than for Oregon overall.18 However, with average household incomes also low, this represents a major burden on many households. There is only one apartment building in Lakeview, and options for low-income housing are limited, with waiting lists that stretch two or three years.
There isn’t enough housing to cover current needs, and much of the available housing stock is of poor quality. Over 80% of the homes in Lake County were built before 1970 — many in the 1930s and 1940s — and it’s estimated that 20% of homes on the market need significant repair.19
Because there aren’t enough vacant homes, or retirement and assisted living facilities, many seniors still live in the homes where they raised their families. These homes are often larger than they need and costly to keep up, requiring capital improvements that are too expensive for them.
DRAWING ON LOCAL STRENGTHS TO OPEN OPPORTUNITIES TO EVERYONE
Even as the culture of education remains vibrant in Lakeview and new economic opportunities take root, there are concerns about whether these opportunities are open to all residents, particularly when considering the region’s changing demographics. Lakeview’s youngest residents are also its most diverse: 20% of K-12 students in Lakeview are Latino.20 The Latino community is growing, and some residents have observed that its members are not always considered a vital and valuable part of the county’s population.
The ILC serves a high number of Latino students, creating new connections to opportunities, education and career pathways. Still, social networks are often based on shared histories, cultures and family ties; even if there isn’t an intent to exclude, this can leave certain communities out. There is a pressing desire among some residents to do more to include the Latino community in Lakeview’s activities, decisions and identity. There is still progress to be made.
Like many rural places, Lake County is dealing with complex issues around opportunity and inequity, geographic mobility and isolation, and intergenerational poverty. The region is experiencing the tensions, changes and possibilities that come from shifting demographics. Building on a rich history of education and unique opportunities, residents are finding ingenious solutions to complex economic issues while creating new models of cooperation and collaboration. There is an ongoing need for workforce development, better and more affordable housing, and the creation of living-wage jobs to support families and bring opportunities to all.
This story is one part of our 2020 TOP Report, “Cornerstones: Economic Mobility and Belonging in Oregon” part of series of six reports tracking economic, social and environmental progress in Oregon. View the full report.
- S. Census Bureau. (2019). Annual estimates of the resident population of Oregon counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2018.
- S. Census Bureau. (2018). QuickFacts: Lake County, Oregon.
- S. Census Bureau. (2018). American FactFinder. Lakeview, Oregon. [Note: This data tool is decommissioned as of 2019.]
- Oregon Department of Education. (2019). 2018–2019 report card for Lake County SD 7.
- Oregon Department of Education. (2019). 2018–2019 report card for Lakeview Senior High School.
- Opportunity Insights & U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Lake County, OR: College graduation rate. The Opportunity Atlas.
- Opportunity Insights & U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Lake County, OR: College graduation rate for children from low-income families. The Opportunity Atlas.
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). Lake County, Oregon: Industry by occupation for the civilian population 16 years and over (ACS 5-year estimates, detailed tables).
- Oregon Employment Department. (2019). Employment and wages by industry (QCEW): Table for Lake County, Oregon.
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). QuickFacts: Lake County, Oregon.
- Opportunity Insights & U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Lake County, OR: Outcomes: Household income. The Opportunity Atlas.
- Opportunity Insights & U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Lake County, OR: Outcomes: % staying in same tract as adults. The Opportunity Atlas.
- S. Census Bureau. (2018). QuickFacts: Comparing Lake County, Oregon and Oregon.
- Klamath & Lake Community Action Services. (2017). Community needs assessment: A guide for Klamath & Lake counties.
- Oregon Department of Education. (2019). 2018–2019 report card for Lake County SD 7.