Today Oregon’s community colleges and universities may not compete directly with privately owned career colleges such as DeVry University under most circumstances. A bill on its way to the governor will change that.

Central Oregon Community College has become one of the poster children in favor of the change. Ron Paradis, director of college relations at COCC, says several years ago the school decided to offer classes in phlebotomy — the drawing of blood — because St. Charles Medical Center and Bend Memorial Clinic were having trouble finding people who were qualified to do so.

The school notified private schools of its decision and an on-line institution from Eugene said it, too, planned to offer courses in Central Oregon. The college dropped its plans.

That may be no big deal, but supporters of House Bill 3341, which gained final legislative approval Thursday, say it does highlight a problem. Because of the restriction on direct competition with for-profit career schools, Oregon’s tax-supported schools cannot always respond to a community’s needs in a timely fashion.

The problem is most critical in the health care field, John Wykoff of the Oregon Community College Association, told the Associated Press recently. Because of the restrictions, community colleges have difficulty planning programs that meet the community’s needs. The result is that they offer fewer such programs than they might otherwise.

In the end, that hurts students and businesses. Students who attend career colleges often spend more on classes than do students at COCC and other community colleges around the state. They suffer, too, if something that might be part of a larger COCC program cannot be offered because a career school does so. And business suffers because the local community college can be prevented from creating the sorts of programs local industry needs.

Community colleges in Oregon are, by definition, designed to offer relatively short programs, many of them technical, that meet the needs of the geographic area they serve. HB 3341 will allow them to do a better job filling that need than they can do today.