Incoming Central Oregon Community College students’ wallets will be a little lighter this fall now that the college’s board of directors approved a tuition increase of about 7% for the 2019-20 school year.

The increase, approved last month, is expected to help pay for state mandated programs that COCC has to fund, as well as make up for tuition loss from students choosing Oregon State University-­Cascades or COCC’s reduced-tuition College Now program for high school students.

According to COCC documents, in-district students will pay $106 per credit starting fall 2019, a $7 increase from this school year. Students who live out of COCC’s district — which includes all of Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, far-southern Wasco County and far-northern Klamath and Lake counties — and students coming from bordering states will pay $148.50 per credit, a $10 bump. Veterans who live out-of-district and pay a reduced tuition will see their tuition increase to $127.25 per credit.

The biggest change is for students traveling from nonborder states, whose tuition jumped to $309 per credit, a 9% and $26 increase.

This will be the largest increase for in-district tuition since 2012, and larger than any out-of-district or out-of-state tuition increases in the past decade.

The college provided many reasons for raising tuition, one of the largest being the unfunded but mandated programs. The state Legislature has passed mandatory tuition waiver programs, which provide free or reduced tuition, for students who are veterans and their dependents, foster children and those over the age of 65. Because the Legislature did not provide community colleges with extra funding to pay for these mandates, COCC lost $880,000 in tuition revenue in the 2017-18 school year, according to COCC documents.

The college also lost about $725,000 last school year from local students choosing OSU-Cascades instead of COCC for their first- and second-year college courses. And COCC’s College Now program, in which high school students can take college classes taught by high school teachers, is offered at a reduced tuition rate. Because 1,160 high school students took College Now courses in the 2017-18 school year, that resulted in $792,639 in lost tuition for COCC that year, according to COCC documents.

Increased tuition will also be used to limit staff reductions. In this academic year and the next, COCC has already trimmed $1.18 million in personnel costs, mostly by not filling vacant positions or not renewing adjunct professor contracts. If tuition wasn’t raised, the college would likely have to resort to layoffs, according to college spokesman Ron Paradis.

Other costs COCC is looking to help cover are utilities and technology expenses. The latter has grown by $1.3 million in the past decade, according to the college.

The university is also raising its technology fee by $3 per credit and introducing a new $3-per-credit College Support Fee. The new fee is meant to offset shrinking state funding, according to COCC documents.

With all the tuition and fee increases, an in-district student taking a 45-credit class load next fall will pay $5,523.75 — an increase of 11.8%, which is about $585, from this academic year.

This tuition increase comes in the wake of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee recommending $590.6 million for the state’s 18 community colleges, only a 3.6 percent increase from community college funding in the 2017-19 biennium.

The COCC board unanimously, yet reluctantly, approved the tuition increases at its April meeting.

“They don’t like raising tuition,” said Paradis. “But in a year like this, after making those cuts and looking at what the state Legislature is doing, it seemed necessary.”

In the 2018-19 school year, COCC had the third-lowest combined tuition and fees for in-district students of every Oregon community college, with only Tillamook Bay and Chemeketa community colleges being less expensive. Paradis said most community colleges are enacting similar tuition increases, so COCC should stay relatively inexpensive comparatively.

Michael Tornatta, director of student affairs for COCC’s student government, said he and his fellow students were “concerned” about the upcoming tuition increase. He said the college is already too expensive for some people, like his roommate, who was priced out of attending classes at the college, and bumping up tuition even more won’t help.

“This is impacting peoples’ ability to attend what’s supposed to be the affordable option,” he said.

Stacey Donohue, an English professor at the college, said although the tuition increases were “unfortunate,” they were a necessary evil to make up for shrinking state funds.

“Will it affect some students negatively? Of course it will,” she said. “But COCC has a wonderful foundation that gives scholarships, and the Oregon Promise led to many students coming to COCC. Those two things will minimize the effect on many students.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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