Chemeketa board ups tuition amid enrollment slump, imperiled state funding

The Chemeketa Community College campus in Salem. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

At a meeting Wednesday, the Board of Education of Chemeketa Community College voted unanimously to approve an increase in tuition and fees for the upcoming 2019–2020 academic year.

When fall term begins this September, in-state students will pay an extra four dollars per credit in tuition and six dollars in fees, for a total increase of $10 per credit. Each credit for in-state students will cost $115. Out-of-state and international students will pay $256 per credit.

“It’s not that we’re doing this lightly or with joy in our heart,” Chair Neva Hutchinson said of the increase. “But if we don’t catch up a little bit, we are going to be way far behind here soon.”

Students in programs and courses that are considered high cost will now face an additional charge per credit, the amount of which is determined by how much funding the state legislature approves.

If legislators approve $590 million or more in college funding for the 2019–2021 biennium, the fee will be five dollars per credit. If the funding falls short of $590 million, that additional fee doubles to ten dollars per credit.

Exactly which programs are “high cost” is as-yet unknown: they will be determined later by the college’s administration.

Students expressed concerns on January 29 at a student forum on the tuition increase, saying it would increase student debt, according to a report from Riley Dunagan, executive coordinator of the Associated Students of Chemeketa.

After the tuition forum, Dunagan spoke with students who were concerned about the effects of the tuition increases on the college’s dropout rate.

They said the college is pushing students to take 15 credits per term instead of the 12 students are taking on average, which already adds additional costs. Students are considered full-time if they are enrolled in courses totaling 12 credits per term.

Students also questioned whether the increase would address “the already outdated” resources available to career and technical education students.

Ken Hector, the board member representing east Marion County and Linn County, shared the state’s budgeting process at the previous meeting on January 16. He noted their final funding figures will not be available until June or July, but the college must put together its budget now.

“There is nobody on this board, and I think I speak for all of us, that want this to happen,” Hutchinson said, without objection from the other board members. “I would encourage all of our young people to see what there is (available) in scholarships.”

Board member Diane Watson said even with the increase, Chemeketa would remain among Oregon’s least expensive community colleges.

 “I hate to raise tuition, but I don’t see a lot of alternative,” she said. “I’ve seen community colleges before (that) didn’t have enough material for programs. We want to stay at the state of the art and continue to be the best we can for our students and make them marketable.”

In addition to the increase, the administration will propose significant cuts to the college’s budget committee come April.

Dylan Umsted is a journalism student at Chemeketa Community College and digital editor of the Chemeketa Courier. This article is part of a partnership between the Courier and Salem Reporter.