Chemeketa hopes for nursing degree, state funds to help budget and students

A proposed bachelor’s degree in nursing as well as an increase in both the state’s Community College Support Fund and the Oregon Opportunity Grant are the top three items Chemeketa Community College hopes the Legislature will approve in the 2023 session.

But with the release of Gov. Tina Kotek’s proposed budget earlier this week, it appears Chemeketa President Jessica Howard and other community college presidents may face an uphill climb in getting what they want.

The Oregon Community College Association has asked for state funding for colleges of $855 million “just to cover the increase in the costs of doing business over the last two years,” the association said in a news release.

Kotek has proposed $759.7 million. Even though that amount is 6.4% more than the 2021-2023 budget, Howard believes it is “still not enough to cover continuing service levels.”

“It creates that question: Will we have to cut programs?” she said. 

In answering, the community college president responded to Salem Reporter in an email, “We are approaching our budget for the upcoming year conservatively and will focus on finding efficiencies and staying strategic in our offerings.”

“(The Community College Support Fund) will help keep our programs operating and robust,” Howard said.

Aside from the Community College Support Fund, Chemeketa also hopes the Legislature will boost another source of funding — the Oregon Opportunity Grant. 

That allows resident students attending community college full-time to receive anywhere between $1,500-$3,600 per year. During fall term 2022, 2,345 students received $2,116,427 from the Oregon Opportunity Grant at Chemeketa.

The governor’s budget proposes an additional $100 million for the grant program, bringing the total to $300 million for the biennium.

Howard and other community college presidents would like to see this grant funding doubled to $400 million. 

“This is Oregon’s primary source of state, need-based financial aid for college students,” Howard said. 

In terms of priorities that don’t require legislative funding, Chemeketa has one request: pass Senate Bill 523. It would make an applied baccalaureate degree in nursing to be conferred as bachelor of science- nursing. 

Chemeketa officials had hoped the Legislature’s 2019 passage of SB3, which gives all community colleges the authority to provide applied bachelor’s degrees, would allow the community college to implement nursing degree But Chemeketa officials were advised not to do that.

“While we don’t see a qualitative difference (between a bachelor of art and a bachelor of science), it’s just the wrong terminology to be recognized in the field,” she said. 

The introduction of SB523 is intended to clarify issues associated with SB3 so that community colleges Chemeketa can offer new bachelor’s degrees. 

Howard praised Chemeketa’s registered nursing program, which she estimated graduated around 175 students with a two-year degree over the last five years. But out of those students, only 75 went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing, according to Howard. 

“We’d like the other 100 to have that opportunity,” she said. “Having a lower-cost, local, affordable and familiar program … we know that we’d end up with more nurses” with an advanced degree.

This credential could also “pave the way” for nurses to obtain a master of science in nursing, as Howard put it. She noted that a master’s is required to teach nursing, so this degree could create more instructors.

“That’s one of the kinks in the pipeline to create nurses,” Howard said.

Howard noted that of the three items on Chemeketa’s legislative wishlist, the Community College Support Fund is likely the most important.

“But all of them are really important,” Howard said. 

As she enters her fourth year as president of Chemeketa, Howard is optimistic about how much of the community college’s wishlist will be funded by the Legislature. 

One of her approaches to making sure the session is successful for Chemeketa is by meeting as many lawmakers as possible.

“All the community college presidents are doing what I’m doing,” Howard said. “We’re all really in it and we’re enthusiastic.”

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Contact Reporter Kevin Opsahl by email at [email protected]

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Kevin Opsahl is the education reporter for Salem Reporter. He was previously the education reporter for The Mail Tribune, based in Medford. He has reported for newspapers in Utah and Washington and freelanced. Kevin is a 2010 graduate of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and is a native of Maryland.