Chemeketa Community College's Salem campus (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Chemeketa Community College students would pay about $270 more for a full year of classes starting next fall if the college’s board approves a proposed tuition increase.

College administrators want to raise college tuition by 4.6% for the 2022-23 school year. That would make it the seventh year in a row of increases.

The changes, presented at a Jan. 19 Board of Education meeting, would raise the cost of one credit at Chemeketa to $136, up from $130 currently.

“We try to balance the levels of revenue to maintain affordability,” said Aaron Hunter, the college’s chief financial officer, presenting the plan to the board.

A full-time student typically takes about 15 credits in one quarter. If the increase is approved, a full year at Chemeketa would cost about $6,120, up from the current $5,850.

Out-of-state students and international students would pay more.

Students taking some courses that are more expensive for the college to offer, like career and lab science classes, would see an additional increase under the plan.

Currently, the college charges an additional $5 per credit for those courses, which include nursing, automotive technology, corrections, horticulture, robotics and welding. That differential fee would increase to $10 per credit next fall.

Like most community colleges in Oregon, the college has for years grappled with rising costs and declining enrollment, exacerbated by the pandemic.

Chemeketa’s enrollment was starting to stabilize during the winter of 2020, but dropped sharply once the college rapidly moved spring quarter online in 2020. Declines have continued since.

Chemeketa had 10,126 students enrolled during fall quarter 2021, about 500 fewer than the fall of 2020.

The full-time equivalent student count, a measure the state uses to calculate community college funding, was also down by about 150 students, to 2,204, according to data presented at the meeting.

And while winter quarter is just starting, so far full-time enrollment is down about 8% this quarter compared to last year, Director of Institutional Research Heidi Gillard told the board.

“Looking ahead, it’s not getting better anytime soon,” she said.

College administrators said at the meeting that relatively high wages for jobs not requiring a college degree are among the reasons fewer students are enrolling currently.

But the college’s budget is performing better than planned for the current school year, according to Hunter’s report to the board. As of Dec. 31, which is halfway through Chemeketa’s budget year, the college had spent about 41% of funds budgeted, while revenue was on track with budget projections.

After Hunter outlined the tuition increase request, Board Chair Jackie Franke praised college administrators for “looking at ways to save money and cut costs before they raise fees or cut people.”

“I appreciate the hard look you guys take to balance things with the minimal impact,” she said.

Of Oregon’s 17 community colleges, Chemeketa is among the more affordable, according to data Hunter presented, with annual costs ranging from $5,265 to $6,539 at other schools.

The college’s current tuition is the sixth least expensive for the current school year.

The raise would make Chemeketa the sixth most expensive community college in Oregon if other schools don’t raise tuition for 2022-23, but Hunter said that’s unlikely.

The college will hold a virtual student forum on the proposed tuition increase Feb. 7 from 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

The college’s board is expected to vote on the tuition increase at their February meeting.

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

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