Chemeketa Community College on Thursday, April 16. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Chemeketa Community College students will have an easier pathway to a four-year degree under a new deal inked with Western Oregon University.

The agreement, signed by college leaders last week, guarantees admission to WOU for Chemeketa students who complete a two-year degree with a minimum 2.0 grade point average. It will take effect in the fall of 2023.

Leaders at both Willamette Valley colleges said they hoped the deal would bolster enrollment, better serve students and improve outcomes like graduation.

Western and Chemeketa have both seen years of enrollment declines, mirroring trends across the state and U.S.

The program, called Direct Connect, includes more collaboration between faculty at the two colleges to make what’s covered in classes lines up, said Bruce Clemetsen, Chemeketa’s vice president of student services.

That means Chemeketa students who complete introductory courses in biology or history should find themselves well-prepared for upper level courses after transferring to WOU.

Once they arrive at WOU, students with an associate’s degree will only need to complete 90 additional credits to earn a bachelor’s degree - typically two years of full-time classes, said Rob Winningham, WOU provost.

Students typically earn a community college degree in 90 credits, but often find not all their credits are accepted at four-year universities. Winningham said WOU has worked to be friendly to transfer students so they don’t run into barriers like that.

“We want students to graduate at (180 credits) or as close as possible because that’s going to save them time and money,” he said.

Transfer students from Chemeketa already make up a significant portion of WOU undergraduates, Winningham said. 

Of the roughly 1,000 new students who began undergraduate classes at Western last fall, about 251 were transfers who had most of their credits from Chemeketa.

Winningham said most Chemeketa students eligible for automatic enrollment at Western under the agreement would have been admitted to the university anyway.

What’s changing is a bigger focus by both colleges on advising students to make the transition easier and help students be more successful.

“That’s a huge component that’s often overlooked,” Winningham said.

That means Western will have advisors available on the Chemeketa campus so students pursuing their associate degrees and intending to transfer can make sure they’re taking needed classes and are prepared for four-year college.

Chemeketa has an existing dual degree agreement with WOU where students can be admitted to both schools and take a mix of courses at each, paying tuition based on how many credits they take.

Clemetsen said Chemeketa plans to better promote that program and advertise the new Direct Connect option in hopes of recruiting more students who know they want a four-year degree but may want to begin at a more affordable community college.

Clemetsen said the agreement may also help retain students at Chemeketa to finish an associate’s degree since they know the coursework will transfer over.

“A lot of students transfer before they complete their transfer degree,” he said. “If they’re on their way to Western, this may mean we have more students completing their degree.”

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

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