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While community colleges in the Portland metro area have seen significant drops in enrollment this fall, Chemeketa's hit has been less dramatic

While a number of community colleges have reported a dip in enrollment this fall, Chemeketa Community College officials say their school's numbers remain strong.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Chemeketa Community College, which branches in Woodburn and Brooks, has seen some dip in enrollment this fall, but it has not been affected as drastically as some of it Portland-metro area counterparts.The Portland Tribune reported last week that metro-area community colleges all saw fairly sharp declines in enrollment due to COVID-19 conditions. Portland Community College saw a 15.8% dive in enrollment for the fall term compared to a year earlier; Clackamas Community College a 20% slump; and Mt. Hood Community College a 17% drop.

That decrease comes despite the fact that during periods of economic recession, community college enrollments tend to rise as fewer people are in the workforce. But the pandemic-related recession creates a different scenario.

"People lost jobs and income," Diane Noreiga, chairperson of the school board at Mt. Hood Community College, told the Tribune. "They are looking at their budgets and they have got to pay for rent and food. College tuition is far down on the list."

Chemeketa has experienced some of that impact, but far less so than its Portland-metro counterparts.

"We are actually doing pretty well in terms of enrollment. Though we are down roughly 12% in comparison to last year, this truly is a case of comparing apples to oranges," said Chemeketa Institutional Advancement Executive Director Marie Hulett.

"For our in-person classes, we've intentionally reduced enrollment capacity to ensure social distancing and the health and safety of our students and employees," Hulett said. "We've also built in time between classes for cleaning and disinfecting activities."

There are some courses the school has had to forgo offering this fall since they cannot be taught remotely and college officials have yet to develop a protocol for them to be conducted safely.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Chemeketa Community College has seen some dip in enrollment this fall, but it has not been affected as drastically as some of it Portland-metro area counterparts."That is not to say we are turning away students," Hulett stressed. "In fact, we had a remarkable surge of applications just prior to the first day of fall term which were successfully processed by our admissions and financial aid units so that all these students could start classes on time.

"Our faculty and staff are doing a remarkable job in the remote environment we all find ourselves in, and students are starting to adjust to it as well."

Hulett said the procedural adjustments have required a learning curve. The staff has dedicated itself to seeing it through.

Chemeketa actually leveraged some of the COVID-19 related hiatus effects to its advantage.

"We reached out to university-bound students who were going to take a gap year and encouraged them to not put their education on hold since they can complete most of their general education, lower-division courses at Chemeketa and then transfer when things get back to normal," Hulett said. "A lot of these students took us up on this idea and we are happy to help them stay on track with their goals."

Hulett believes the comparatively lower tuition costs also factored into student decisions.

According to Community College Review, Oregon community colleges' average tuition is approximately $5,223 per year for in-state students and $8,497 for out-of-state students (2020-21).

Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission lists the tuition and fee costs for various state institutions from the 2018-19 school year. Chemeketa's $4,725 is among the most modestly priced, one of just three costing less than $5,000. The others are Central Oregon Community College, $4,939, and Tillamook Bay Community College, $4,860. Nearly all community colleges in Oregon show tuition costs at roughly half that of state universities.

The commission's 2018-19 tuition numbers for state schools included: Oregon State University, $11,211; University of Oregon, $11,898; Western Oregon University, $10,197; Portland State University, $9,105; Southern Oregon University, $9,654; Eastern Oregon University, $8,679; Oregon Institute of Technology, $10,710; and Oregon Health & Science University, $19,176.

Pamplin Media Group reporter Teresa Carson contributed to this story.

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- Oregon community colleges report big dip in fall enrollment

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