Decreasing enrollment met with cautious optimism
By Thomas Laskey Photo by Brad Bakke
Attending college is expensive.
Students and college officials alike are noticing the effects of declining student enrollment. As enrollment goes down, students may face class cancellations and higher tuition costs.
Jim Eustrom, Chemeketa’s interim vice president, said he was concerned about the financial burden on students.
“I think we’re seriously looking at the cost of education for students,” he said. “We don’t want students to have a huge loan debt. We want to attack the cost of education to make it reasonable.
“One thing we’re trying to do in this last year is to control the cost of textbooks.”
Eustrom also said that the college was working to keep tuition increases to a minimum.
“We’re seeing what we can do to not raise tuition at all because we know in reality that’s not a good deal for the students,” he said.
“If we proposed a tuition increase at all, it would be a dollar, or two dollars, but it wouldn’t be a $10 one, which some schools are doing.”
According to Eustrom, Chemeketa’s current decrease in enrollment follows a pattern that ties in with the state of the economy during the past few years.
“As the economy starts getting better, people are going back to work,” he said. “People are doing other things, so the number of people coming to community college is decreasing.
“During the economic downturn in the United States, and in Oregon, people attending community college went through the roof. Over the course of five years or so, our student population increased by about 34 percent.
“Last year we lost about 7 percent, and this year we anticipate losing about 8 percent. That’s still not down below the level that we were at before,” Eustrom said.
Despite the enrollment numbers, students continue to face class cancellations and other issues.
Aleta Gantt, a second-year fine arts student, said she experienced the misfortune of seeing classes canceled during the summer term.
“Because the census was down, it became necessary to pull an incredible number of classes – so many that I was not even able to attend” during the summer term, she said.
“I’m working on a transfer degree, so obviously I have requirements to meet. And because I’m on financial aid, I have a limited time to meet those requirements. As much as I would love to shove some interesting, random class into any gaps left by poor availability of required classes, I can’t afford it.”
Eustrom is sympathetic. To combat the drop-off in enrollment and lost tuition revenue, he said the college was considering some new degree programs.
“We’re looking at other health professions; we’re looking at farm mechanics” and similar offerings,” he said, “where there’s an increasing need that we don’t currently meet.
“Unfortunately, it takes about two years to get a program approved by the state and get it into place. But we’re moving ahead with three or four programs right now.”
Eustrom said that the college also was looking at ways to offer services to high schools to help create another source of revenue.
“We are probably going to be in a situation by the end of this year where in order for high school students to graduate, they will need to complete nine credits of college classes,” he said. “But the colleges have to offer the classes to the high school.
“One thing that’s happening, too, is that so many of the high schools can’t afford summer school, so we’re looking at developing a summer school program.”
Greg Harris, Chemeketa’s dean of public information and the head of the Marketing and Student Recruitment department, said he was focused on increasing the number of people who follow through with the registration process.
“One of the things we’ve learned from our data is that if we establish a connection with people, they are more likely to enroll than if we leave them without personal contact,” he said.
“We’re spending more money on internet-based communication with prospective students. This allows us to obtain their contact information so that we can follow up with emails and phone calls.
“We have also hired extra staff to work in the Financial Aid department who are there to provide financial aid guidance,” Harris said.
In spite of declining enrollment numbers, Eustrom remains optimistic.
“I think decreasing enrollment is giving us an opportunity in a weird way to work more one on one with students because we have fewer students,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the workload is any easier for instructors or staff members, but it does allow us to do a little more personal work with students.”