The cost of tuition has been on a constant rise

Seven dollars. That doesn’t sound like much, right? What’s seven dollars, in the big picture? A six-pack? A pack of smokes? Two gallons of gas?

But crunching the numbers, the $7 per-credit tuition hike unanimously approved by the MHCC District Board of education adds up to quite a bit. A full-time term consists of 12 credits, which means tuition has been raised by a little over $80 each term. Most associate degree programs require a little over 90 credits, which adds up to over $600 tacked onto every degree (assuming all of a student’s credits were taken here over the course of two years) coming out of Mt. Hood.

Given that Mt. Hood’s 2017-2018 standard tuition-and-fees cost for each student was calculated at $5,157 by Oregon’s higher education number-crunchers, this amounts to a roughly 6 percent hike in costs, starting with the 2018 Summer Term.

If this were only the case at Mt. Hood, Oregon’s academic community would doubtless be a little more up in arms about the increase in tuition, but, sadly this increasing trend in tuition appears to be statewide.

In the 2007-08 school year, Mt. Hood’s tuition-and-fees clocked in at just $3,024 per term (see chart). For reference, PCC’s tuition was $2,600, Clackamas and Chemeketa were both around $2,850, and Linn-Benton, down in Albany, was at $2,700.

Just a decade later, PCC’s tuition is at $5,100, Clackamas and Chemeketa are at $4,600 and $4,500 respectively, and Linn-Benton’s tuition is posted at $5,000.

(Worth noting: Following a decade of remarkably low inflation in the U.S., that $3,024 in 2007 would equal $3,620 in today’s dollars.)

It’s clear that statewide, ever-rising tuition is less an odd fluke than an unfortunate reality.

Now, if this increase in tuition corresponded to a commensurate increase in courses offered, faculty compensation, talent retention, facility improvement and an overall increase in student confidence in the value of their degree – not to mention a significant reduction in administrative salary and generalized bureaucratic parasitism – we the students could rest assured knowing that tuition hikes would equate to tangible improvement in the quality of our education.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

But it’s easy to point fingers at administration (to some degree, accepting blame for things you have no control over is built into any admin job description). Would that the answer across-the-board was simply a reduction in administrative budget in order to finance existing programs, instructor salaries and facility upgrades. Unfortunately, while that line of thinking is a piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t answer the entire, underlying question: Why don’t colleges have enough money?

According to Oregon.gov, the state government’s website, Oregon community colleges are funded three ways: “state funding, tuition revenue, and local property tax revenue.” As readers who have followed the breathless drama of passing an education bond in Gresham in the past 30 years or so know well (for MHCC, and for local public K-12 school districts), citizens tend toward inaction when it comes to voluntarily forking over more tax dollars to subsidize increased costs in education. But even community colleges such as PCC, which has successfully passed several bond measures, have had to raise their tuitions at the same rates, roughly speaking, as Mt Hood.

Part of the answer, then, must lie with the state, with those damned career politicians down in Salem.

According to the Community College Financial Information System (CCFIS), since 2007 tuition as a total percentage of school revenue in Oregon has grown from 28.8 percent to 39.7 percent, while state funding currently makes up 36.9 percent of total funding, down from 48.7 percent.

In other words, a significant portion of community college’s revenue load in Oregon has been shifted onto students in the wake of what amounts to a funding freeze (or lag, at the least) from Salem in the face of increased educational expenses.

Now, to be fair, education funding is far from the only issue the Oregon Legislature can’t quite seem to figure out. You can sort of take your pick when it comes to “budgetary gaps the state legislature needs to address ASAP,” but that certainly doesn’t help students faced with 6 percent tuition hikes.

If this latest increase is what it takes to ensure the continued operation of Mt Hood, fine. All things considered, an additional $650 is worth it when balanced against the approximate 10 percent increase in lifetime income a person with an associate degree earns.

But where does it stop? Jennifer DeMent, MHCC’s chief operations officer, told the board last month that even with this hike, the college is still $500,000 short of where it needs to be, a fact which she says will necessitate “some (program/staffing) cuts.” How long before we see another tuition increase?

Community colleges are intended to provide students from marginalized backgrounds and lower income levels a fighting chance in today’s economic world, but on the trajectory we’re on, at a certain point attending one will be just as economically unfeasible as is a four-year university.

But don’t worry, there’s always loans, right?

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