Chemeketa hits lowest number of students in more than a decade

Chemeketa Community College (File/Salem Reporter)

Enrollment at Chemeketa Community College is the lowest it’s been in over a decade, with 625 fewer students this fall than compared to last year.

Nearly 11,900 students were taking a course at Chemeketa the fourth week of fall quarter, according to state data released last week. That’s a drop of about 5% from last year.

The college’s full-time enrollment is down to 2,962 students, down 8% from last fall.

Jessica Howard, Chemeketa’s president since last summer, said college administrators are working on a plan to combat the decline, which will be finished by the end of the academic year.

“When the economy is bad and students are flooding to us we don’t necessarily have to try hard. It’s times like these when I think that we can get more focused in serving the community,” she said.

The focus will be on career programs for working adults and students seeking a two-year degree or more traditional college studies.

(Graphic by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Howard said some of the drop was due to program changes.

A local charter school didn’t renew a contract to run a GED program, which had hundreds of students. The college has also made changes in some academic departments.

“It was easy to understand some of this trending down. Some of this is still a mystery,” Howard said.

Community college enrollment typically declines when the economy is strong and increases during recessions as people out of work look to learn new skills.

But enrollment increased or stayed stable at several Oregon community colleges this fall, which may signal stabilization after years of a shrinking student body. Statewide, there are about 750 fewer community college students this fall compared to last.

“The economic expansion has sort of maintained. There’s not radical changes happening in the economy,” said Amy Cox, director of research and data for Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

(Graphic by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Community colleges receive state money based on full-time enrollment count. Last year, Chemeketa raised tuition and laid off staff to balance the budget as enrollment fell.

Chemeketa board president Diane Watson said it was “too early to make any predictions” about budgetary impacts. The college’s budget is finalized in the spring.

“We are not just sitting on our laurels waiting for the economy to improve,” Howard said.

Some Chemeketa programs for high-demand jobs have seen enrollment growth, Howard said, including a new anesthesiology technician program added last year. Administrators are working to add a diesel technician program and are about a year away from opening a new agriculture complex which will expand programs in a department that’s shown growth.

“While we may not see the gains immediately in two or three years we’ll see the fruits of that labor,” Howard said.

News tip? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.