The MHCC District Board of Education approved a new tuition hike and an increase in student fees on April 12, in response to an expected operating budget shortfall.
The tuition increase is a modest one, comparatively: Students at the University of Oregon and Portland State University have in recent weeks seen increases of about 9 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively. Mt. Hood’s increase for 2017-18 comes in at 4.3 percent, raising per-credit hour tuition rates from $94 to $98/credit hour.
Still, with many MHCC degree programs requiring at least 90 credits, this comes out to a several-hundred dollar increase for new, incoming students.
The adopted increase would not affect students who are currently enrolled, however, provided they meet certain guidelines.
In September 2015, the board voted on a tuition freeze, presented as the school’s “Tuition Pledge.” According to Mt Hood’s website, the Pledge guarantees the current $94 rate to students who first enrolled by spring 2016 and who continue to maintain a GPA of 2.0, enroll in at least one course each term (for at least three out of four terms each consecutive academic year), and filed a formal education plan with the school by June 2016.
Debbie Derr, Mt. Hood president, said other changes will be needed to fix the college’s current budget troubles. They include shedding more employee positions.
“One thing the past has taught us is that we cannot continue to do the same things the same way and expect our financial situation to improve,” Derr told the board. Board policy dictates that a minimum of 5 percent of the total annual operating budget be reserved, and yet the $70.3 million budget approved on April 12 sets aside only 4 percent to the contingency fund, which is $675,000 short of the board-dictated minimum.
Derr outlined a plan to restore these reserves over the next two years, which includes a review of the Mt Hood’s hospitality program, whereby the currently vacant (department head) position “will not be filled for one year, and… will be reviewed with the 2018-19 fiscal year,” she said.
She also said there would be a reorganization of the Intensive English for College and Careers coursework, including combining “reading and writing courses for international and non-native English speaking people;” an early retirement incentive, dropping the eligible age for MHCC employees 55 years; and an “ongoing review of staff positions to explore possibilities to consolidate workload and create efficiencies resulting in a need for fewer or redesigned positions.”
The District board also approved an increase in student fees, up $0.50, which will raise projected revenue for student activities by $90,000. Student activity fees fund a wide variety of student programs, such as “ASG (Associated Student Government), all co-curricular activities such as the Advocate, Rho Theta, the forensics department, Venture (magazine), KMHD2, Perceptions (magazine), and then all the clubs, and then athletic teams and outside athletics which includes intramural athletics,” according to Anna Mar, ASG finance director.
This is the first time MHCC student activity fees have been raised in 10 years, a decision that Mar described as “very difficult.”
The Student Finance Council put together the increase because “(Given the) decrease in enrollment, an increase in cost of living which also includes cost of all the services, contracts, food and everything else, we were not able to fund activities at the current level,” said Mar.
“We had to make significant cuts to our programs, as (it) is, and without the increase we would have to cut out several,” she said. “We would have had to make cuts that would basically make programs unsustainable.” She said that cutting programs “isn’t in the best interest of students.”
The expected revenue increase won’t fund any expansion of programs, but instead is more a stopgap measure to ensure program solvency, with more proposed fee increases in the future, Mar noted.
“There will be a proposal for another increase next year. It’s a three-year plan: 50 cents this year, and then 25 cents the following year, and then 25 cents the following year again, and each year it will have to be voted on by the Board of Education,” she said.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to eventually expand the programming, but really the budget that we have right now (is) kind of stripped to the bones and the bare minimum. It’s the best we can do with the very minimal funding we have.”