By Travis Loose
On Feb. 27, Chemeketa’s Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of a $6 per credit hour tuition increase to begin at the start of the summer term.
The board acted on the advice of the college’s administrative team, which made its recommendation because of growing statewide pressures to achieve Oregon’s 40/40/20 goal.
But according to JoAnne Beilke, the board chairman, that isn’t quite the whole story.
“My personal opinion [is that] we’ll never reach 40/40/20. It’s just way too up there,” Beilke said in early April.
“I don’t see it happening without a great influx of investments into education. Oregon and the nation, over the last 20 years, have disinvested.”
Beilke, 71, has served on the board for the past 18 years and has been its chairman three different times. She has a background in real estate and as a business owner.
Unfortunately, she said, “Most students, and most people, do not understand education financing. … We have a $300 million budget, and we only get 25 percent of it from the state of Oregon; the rest comes in the form of grants, etc. You really have to understand the pie to see where the money comes from.”
But Beilke also considers where it’s going.
Because the state budget was decreased by $100 million over the past few years, more than pressures from the 40/40/20 goal – pressures to pay salaries and medical insurance gaps, as well as providing educational programs and keeping the lights on – have taken a higher financial priority, Beilke said.
The programs and salaries and monthly bills are all related to the looming 40/40/20 goals, which state that by the year 2025, 40 percent of adult Oregonians will have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40 percent will have earned an associate’s degree or post-secondary credential, and 20 percent or fewer adults will have earned a high school diploma or GED.
In simple terms, to achieve the state’s goals, Chemeketa must increase its graduation rates. To do that, the college must invest in educational programs that are run by motivated staff and faculty members who are adequately compensated.
For staff and faculty members to work efficiently, the lights must remain on.
This is where student dollars come in.
Before the board voted to increase tuition rates, the Associated Students of Chemeketa, the college’s student government arm, surveyed 218 students at the Salem campus during the winter term.
The questions: How would you feel about a tuition increase? And if tuition is raised, where do you want the money to go?
James Cutz, the president for the Associated Students of Chemeketa, said, “It was really interesting to see how students reacted to the tuition increase – how many students responded to the survey, the kind of responses we got from the survey, and what students are willing to do about” the college’s financial situation.
But Cutz also expressed frustration.
“A lot of students weren’t even willing to fill out the survey. Some students didn’t even put whether they supported it or not. Some people wrote the most ridiculous things on that survey.
“This is the smallest way that students can contribute – to fill out a piece of paper and have their voice be heard,” he said.
Cutz said that student government members tried to obtain as many responses as they could to accurately convey how Chemeketa students felt about the tuition increase proposal.
“But students are still not rising to the challenge,” he said.
Student responsibility, he said, goes beyond achieving a letter grade or simply attending classes regularly.
“As students, our job is to inform the decision-making process of the administration,” he said. “If no one steps up to voice their opinion, then [the administration] is just going to go on whatever they think is best.”
In this case, a $6 tuition increase was recommended, and the board approved it.
According to Beilke, however, student reaction is carefully weighed and considered; every decision is not rubber-stamped.
In 2012, for example, an administrative proposal was sent to the board to implement a mandatory parking fee that would be paid by all students, regardless of whether they drove to school.
After an outcry, the board sent the proposal back to the administrative team with the suggestion that its members reconsider the proposal.
But would an informed student response have swayed the board’s decision to increase tuition this time?
“I doubt it,” Beilke said. “We absolutely know what investments we need for the overall good of the college’s students.”
Cutz said that the student government group’s participation in the process, and at the board meeting that took place in February, was a foregone conclusion.
“Quite honestly,” Cutz said, “I believe the decision was already made. The ASC represented students, but I don’t believe it was as big a factor in the board’s decision-making process as we would have liked it to have been.”
The college is a business, Cutz said, “but if you are going to raise the prices, we would like to inform where those dollars are being spent on campus.”
Interestingly, the specifics of that question remain mostly unanswered today.
Cheryl Roberts, Chemeketa’s president, said that the administration heard the students and that students would see “a lot of things in the budget in April that they’ve been talking about.”
“Unlike many of our sister community colleges, we are proposing some budget increases in staffing, programs, and services that students value,” she said. “We believe these investments will position us for the future as we focus on student success through access, retention, progression, and completion.
“We are fortunate that prudent financial decisions we have made in the past enable us to make investments in exceptional teaching and learning experiences for our students.”
But what specifically are those investments?
Greg Harris, the college’s marketing dean, said, “There’s going to be increased support for more advising, and increased support for a range of technologies that help students to understand what they need to do in order to fulfill the requirements for their programs.
“But I really can’t say anything more specific at this point.”
Harris cited an upcoming reveal of the budget proposal that will be presented to the Board of Education as the blockade preventing specific details from being leaked to the public at this time.
Patrick Lanning, the college’s vice president for academic affairs, provided a bit more detail without actually giving any more specifics.
“The tuition and fee increase will support some faculty positions where we’ve been spread thin, or areas that have seen significant enrollment increases. We are also looking at staff investments in areas that directly support students in classes/labs and areas like advising,” he said.
“The investment in technology will also provide students, faculty, and staff better access to student information and allow students to get their own information, like degree progression, without needing to wait in line.”
Beyond the issue of exactly where the money is going to be spent, however, the college’s board chairman is interested in exactly what kind of student attends Chemeketa.
Beilke said that as Chemeketa transitioned from an enrollment-based to a graduation-based budget, the college would have to look more carefully at the admitting procedures.
“I think accessibility is going to be tough,” she said.
“Student success and achievement compacts are whittling out [students] and putting new expectations on them. And that’s where I’ve always said it should be. I’ve always felt that personal responsibility is where it’s at.”
While the decision to raise tuition has already been made, the next big question for students is how that money will be spent.
The first budget committee hearing will take place at 7 p.m. April 10 in the boardroom in Bldg. 2, immediately opposite the Planetarium. A second budget committee hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m. April 17 in the same location.
Board of Education budget hearings will follow in May and June.
The accessibility for each student will only be limited by the student’s own abilities, Beilke said. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
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