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RCC fees may rise

Rogue Community College has proposed increasing tuition in the coming academic year.

The proposed increase would push tuition up $2 per credit, or 3 percent, to $68 per credit for Oregon residents. For out-of-state students, tuition would increase $3, or 3.75 percent, to $83 per credit, and for international students, it would go up $7, or 3.18 percent, to $227 per credit.

The proposal replicates increases approved last year. Since 1999 the college has raised tuition roughly 51 percent. During the 1999-2000 school year, tuition was $45 per credit for residents, $55 per credit for out-of-state students and $150 per credit for international students.

This sharp increase in tuition over the long-term is common across the state, said Andrea Henderson, executive director of the Salem-based Oregon Community College Association.

Tuition and student fees provide roughly 30 percent of the budget for higher education in the state, up from about 20 percent a decade ago, she said.

"With inadequate funding from the state, colleges have to find alternatives," Henderson said.

She said that ultimately most community college boards have had to face a tough choice about how they will limit access to education — either by raising tuition and pricing some students out, or eliminating classes and programs.

"Both have an effect on students, so they try to reach a delicate balance," she said.

Current tuition for residents at Oregon community colleges ranges from $57 per credit at Clackamas Community College to $73 per credit at Lane Community College. The statewide average is $63.61 per credit.

Henderson said she has heard that several community colleges have proposed modest tuition increases for the coming year, but the association hasn't collected data on possible increases yet.

Construction worker Jesse Riker, 26, of Central Point, pays all his own educational expenses. He's earning an associate's degree from RCC on a path he hopes will ultimately lead to a bachelor's degree in outdoor leadership from Southern Oregon University and a career in search and rescue. He has 30 more credits to earn his first degree, and said the number of credits he takes each quarter depends, at least in part, on what he can afford.

"It would make a difference," he said of the proposed increase, although he noted that RCC would still be cheaper than SOU.

Alissa Case, 25, of Ashland, started work on a transfer degree in biology at RCC this fall. Although she qualifies for financial aid and is getting help from her parents, she worries about the affordability of education.

"Tuition is this big, looming thing out there," she said. "It adds up, definitely."

She said she thinks it is "ridiculous" that so much of the burden of paying for an education falls on students when education clearly benefits all of society.

"We have to pay for education in this country," said Robert DeGross, 32, of Ashland.

He fears that lack of affordable access to education will limit opportunity for individuals and ultimately harm the county and the economy.

Lynda Warren, RCC's dean of college services, said under the proposal, tuition would account for 26 percent of the school's revenue, down slightly from 28 percent in 2006-07 and 27 percent this year. A growing reserve fund helps buffer the cost burden on students, she said.

She also noted that students have told college officials that they prefer regular, small changes over holding tuition steady for several years, then enacting steep increases.

During the 2003-04 school year, tuition jumped more than 20 percent to $59 from $49 per credit for residents, prompting a sharp decline in enrollment. The school then held tuition steady for three years, before imposing an 8.5 percent boost that pushed tuition up $5 per credit for residents.

The board will take another look at the proposed increases at its next regular meeting March 18. Also up for consideration is a $5 increase in the charge for a bus pass, bumping that cost up to $20 per term, and a $5 increase in the fee, currently $15, to set up a payment plan.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Robert DeGross, 32, of Ashland, works on algebra at Rogue Community College’s study center. He is concerned that the rising cost of higher education will make the United States less competitive in the world. - Bob Pennell