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The bad kind of good news

Editorials

The first enrollment drop in years is troubling as tuition continues to climb

Rogue Community College officials are putting the best face they can on the aftermath of a steep tuition increase and other cost-cutting moves. But the numbers don't lie. Times are tough for RCC and likely to get worse before they get better.

RCC President Rick Levine says the tuition boost was a gamble, but appears to be paying off because enrollment hasn't plummeted. He says he hopes the school can get through the next two years without cutting programs or raising tuition again.

So do we. We don't blame Levine for stressing the positive, but we see things a bit differently.

Levine finds a silver lining in the fact that the average credit load of RCC students has grown from 5.5 credits last year to 6.14 this year. In financial terms, he's right. More credits per student means more tuition from those students.

What alarms us ' and should alarm anyone with an interest in higher education in Southern Oregon ' is that total enrollment at RCC's Grants Pass and Medford campuses dropped this year by 850. That's RCC's first enrollment decline in recent memory.

— That says to us that higher tuition and fees are driving some students away. And that's not good.

It helps a little that the decline won't mean an immediate drop in state support. Unlike public school districts, community colleges aren't reimbursed by the state for every student every year. The formula is based on a rolling average.

Paradoxically, that can mean worse funding problems when enrollment is booming, because state support doesn't increase fast enough to keep up with the costs of adding classes and the faculty to teach them. But that's no reason to be complacent about RCC's future.

The economic development of this region depends in large part on an educated work force, and community colleges are a key component in training workers. RCC cannot continue to survive by raising tuition. But until state funding improves, college officials have no choice.

The state simply must do a better job of funding not just community colleges, but all of higher education.

Support United Way

United Way of Jackson County is not yet halfway to its goal of just under &

36;1 million in donations this year, but agency officials are confident they will reach the mark by mid-November.

The agency provides funding to 49 programs in 34 agencies, collecting donations from nearly 8,000 individuals.

Like other charitable efforts, United Way was hard hit by the economic downturn and the aftereffects of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The lagging economy, of course, means supporting this agency and others in the community is more important than ever. High unemployment means increased demand for the services the United Way supports.

Every year, United Way pulls together one of the largest volunteer forces in the county to tell its message and ask for help. If you hear the message, you'll understand just how important that help is.

For information, call 773-5339.