College officials ponder further tuition increases

Leaders of local colleges say a “no” vote on Measure 30 may guarantee tuition increases for students next fall.

Western Oregon University raised tuition by an average of 20 percent last fall and will consider a another increase this year to avoid drastic cuts, President Philip Conn said.

The school cut 30 positions last fall and is using savings to balance its books.

“Unfortunately right now the projection is that by the end of this biennium, our reserves will be totally depleted,” Conn said. “So we’re obviously looking for answers to decrease our base costs.”

If voters reject the current tax increase, the school will lose about $600,000. Conn said the college will try to avoid faculty cuts.

“We’re working hard to protect the instructional program,” he said. “That obviously is our major product; that is our reason for being.”

Russ Walker, Northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, doubts that schools will have to deal with the cuts.

When the measure fails, Walker said, the Legislature will have to reconvene in a special session and do the work it should have done last year — prioritize finances for core services, including higher education.

Walker said the Legislature has enough money to pay for basic services without raising taxes. The money that residents would spend in taxes would be better spent boosting the state economy, he said.

“Where are these kids graduating from our colleges going to find a job if we don’t do something to fix our economy?” Walker said. “Those kids will leave the state of Oregon.”

Officials at Chemeketa Community College are considering a 12 percent tuition increase even if Measure 30 passes, said Craig Smith, the school’s vice president and chief financial officer.

The increase and accompanying cuts will be needed to balance next year’s $55 million budget. Revenues currently are projected to be $7.2 million short.

School officials are considering the tuition increase, talking to labor unions for wage concessions and searching for positions and programs to eliminate, Smith said.

If Measure 30 fails, Smith said, all community colleges would share a $6 million cut. Chemeketa’s portion would be determined later by the Oregon Board of Higher Education.

Tara McLain can be reached at (503) 399-6705.