Blue Mountain Community College will not increase its tuition for the first time in 23 years while facing a $1.8 million budget shortfall.
Casey White-Zollman, vice president of public relations for the college, said the BMCC Board of Education on Wednesday voted unanimously against raising tuition for the 2019-20 academic year to keep the college affordable.
“The decision did not come lightly,” according to a written statement from White-Zollman. “The board considered survey feedback from students, as well as recommendations from a campus-wide budget committee, before coming to a resolution.”
The college has about 7,400 students in all. While setting the 2018-19 tuition last year, according to White-Zollman, students told the board they were at the point of choosing between their education and basic needs. BMCC has the highest tuition and fees for the 17 community colleges in Oregon following a 12 percent increase over the past two academic years.
Blue Mountain charges $108 per credit for residents of Oregon and border states plus various class fees. According to Oregon community college data, going to BMCC for the 2018-19 school year costs $6,188, not including books and supplies.
Southwestern Oregon Community College, Coos Bay, charges the second-highest annual tuition this year, $5,913, and Chemeketa Community College, Salem, has the least expensive in-state tuition at $4,725. The average annual in-state tuition for community colleges is $5,399 and out-of-state is $10,058. The in-state average increased $227 from the previous school year while the out-of-state average bumped up $64.
“The college has been conservative in planning and budgeting,” White-Zollman said, but that has not been enough to offset the rising costs of employees, complying with state and federal unfunded mandates and paying into Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System. PERS in particular, she said, is going to hit BMCC hard next year.
The state in the past provided approximately one-third of the college’s operating costs, White-Zollman explained, with another one-third from tuition and one-third from local taxes. Now, BMCC receives 28 percent from the state, 32 percent from property taxes, and 5 percent from other resources. The largest chunk — 35 percent — comes from tuition, meaning students shoulder most of the costs.
The state allocated $579 million for the 17 community colleges, but White-Zollman said the actual cost of running the colleges is $647 million.
“That is what we need to keep things as is,” she said.
Gov. Kate Brown’s budget proposal cuts community college funding to $543 million, while the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee proposed $590.7 million for the colleges.
“BMCC and other community colleges are budgeting at the $590 million mark,” she said.
And that’s a bit of a crap shoot. The colleges have to set their budgets in May, while the Legislature does not finish with the state’s budget until July.
Based on the Legislature’s proposal, BMCC faces a $1.8 million gap between resources and costs. Per White-Zollman, increasing tuition $1 per credit would generate approximately $50,000 in revenue, and a 5 percent increase would add another $250,000 to the college coffers. Enacting both would leave BMCC pulling $1.5 million from its reserve.
Rather than increase prices, she said, the board chose to use $1.8 million in reserves and will take the next year along with incoming president Dennis Bailey to restructure how the college delivers education at a cost students can afford. The reserve fund has enough to sustain the college for a few years, she said, but by 2022 that plan would run into trouble.
“The board believes it’s time for the state to adequately fund community college education,” White-Zollman said.
BMCC plans on letting Ways and Means know how crucial the funding is. The legislative committee was at the college’s Pendleton campus Friday for a public hearing. White-Zollman said staff and students would line the halls to greet lawmakers and plan to speak during the hearing. She said the overall message is clear: “We really need the state to step up.”