Chemeketa’s complicated budget process relies on the state Legislature
By Matthew Skog
Keeping the lights on. Paying staff and faculty members. Keeping tuition fees low. Maintaining infrastructure. Saving for the future.
Each year, Chemeketa develops a budget to manage these and a variety of other essentials that keep the school running.
While it may not be the most glamorous duty, the college would effectively collapse without a properly managed budget.
“It’s something that students don’t usually think about; they’re pretty removed from it. But it’s necessary for the college to function,” Rich McDonald, Chemeketa’s director of budget and finance, said.
McDonald coordinated the development of the 2015-16 budget proposal.
The process to create a budget for an institution of Chemeketa’s size is a lengthy one.
“You have two sides to it,” McDonald said. “First, you have the legal requirement side. We have to follow Oregon law. Then we have the college side of it, which are our own internal processes that we follow.”
McDonald said that these processes include determining the funding needed for each department at the college.
“A lot of the budget is semi-fixed costs, because you already have commitments with your people,” he said. “In our general fund, about 85 percent of the budget is personnel related. The remainder of the budget is mostly for materials and services.
“But, there is a thorough review of programs and positions each year to create additional budget savings and identify areas that need additional investment.”
This year’s budget included an unusual challenge because of the uncertainty surrounding the state funding levels that Oregon’s community colleges would receive.
“This year was different then what we’d done in the past,” McDonald said. “Every time you’re going into a new biennium, there’s always some uncertainty involved. This time it was probably a wider range than anything we’ve seen in quite a while as far as state funding. In the past it’s been within a reasonably narrow range, but this time it was pretty wide.
“So we started off with a baseline budget. We assumed that the state would fund community colleges at the lower end of the range, and then from that we did alternative scenarios for if we receive higher funding levels.”
Andrew Bone, the college’s vice president of governance and administration, explained the impact these different funding levels will have on tuition fees.
“The Board of Education set tuition without knowing what we will get from the Legislature,” Bone said. “So, they adopted a tiered tuition structure. If community colleges get $535 million or more from the Legislature, there will be no tuition increase. If we get between $500 million and $535 million, tuition will be increased $1 per credit. If we get less than $500 million, it will be increased $2 per credit.”
In spite of the uncertainty surrounding state funding levels, Chemeketa is in a relatively strong position financially.
“We are fortunate in that our financial picture is good,” Bone said. “Some community colleges in Oregon are having to lay off employees and cut back services to students.”
McDonald said that keeping tuition rates low is a priority.
“I think the way the budget impacts students the most is with the variations in state funding and how that impacts their tuition fees,” he said. “And fortunately, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping a handle on it the last few years.
“Hopefully, students realize that there really is a tremendous effort to keep costs as low as possible for them. I know that a couple dollar change in the tuition rate can be a big deal for students, so there really is a concerted effort to keep things as affordable as possible.”
The 2015-16 budget proposal is expected to be finalized and formally adopted by the Board of Education on June 17.