MONMOUTH -- Western Oregon University officials announced major changes this month that they hope will entice greater enrollment and improve the educational offerings for current and future students.
Board members of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education will vote on Oct. 6 on a proposal by Western to guarantee students the same tuition rate for four years.
And this week, administrators entered into an agreement with Chemeketa Community College that will allow for dual enrollment in both schools.
"I think (the programs) allow us to work with more students and families, to show them that college is affordable," said David McDonald, interim dean of admissions, enrollment management and retention.
"And our deal with Chemeketa lets us serve more students in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties by giving them more pathways to college degrees."
The fixed tuition concept arose last March, during a meeting regarding student retention, McDonald said.
He contacted a handful of other educational institutions around the United States about similar programs. Western Illinois University and all of Georgia's state colleges have fixed tuition.
All resident undergraduates who enroll in 2007 or after would pay their initial year's tuition rate for the subsequent four years. The "Western Tuition Promise," as it is being called also includes part-time students. Graduate studentss aren't eligible.
But this year's freshmen will have the option of taking part in the program next year, McDonald said.
The plan requires students to take 15 or more credit hours. Tuition for a 15-hour course load this fall - not including health, building and other fees - comes to $3,645.
Oregon University System tuition increases have ranged between 5 percent and 7 percent during the last couple of years. Western estimates the savings to a student at about $900 to $1,000 over four years. That works out if inflation were to drive the yearly increases to 8 percent.
The frozen cost allows families to more accurately budget for college and puts students on a better pace to graduate in four years, McDonald said.
"If students can shorten the time it takes to get their degree, the savings are even greater because they're avoiding the tuition, fees and other costs associated with another year of enrollment.
Basically, "We're trying to build a reward structure for graduating in four years," he said.
Concerns regarding the plan focus on the 2007 "hit" - the 16 percent tuition hike that would occur all at once in order to do away with regular increases over four years.
A freshman would then pay $4,228, but remain on that schedule until 2010.
Student expenses and fees other than tuition would increase as dictated by inflation or the state.
Even with the admittedly steep hike, Western's tuition would still compare favorably to other Oregon schools, McDonald said.
"Even at 16 percent, we're still below what Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and Portland State University are charging," he said.
Patrick Waugh, president of the Associated Students of Western Oregon University (ASWOU) said he and other student leaders had initially expressed apprehension over aspects of the proposal to administrators.
Their issues included the initial hike, situations where students would require an additional year to graduate, and the thought that the program might be established without a test period, Waugh said.
"If a student has an extraordinary situation, they can request a fifth year," McDonald said. In other cases, the student would be only assessed the tuition increase that would have previously occurred between his or her first and second year.
"We think this is a step in the right direction," Waugh said. "I would say the (ASWOU) board has approved it, as long as the goals stay the same and the tuition can stay low."
Dual enrollment agreement begins
Last week, Western and Chemeketa Community College officials entered into an agreement on Sept. 14 that allows students to be jointly admitted and concurrently enrolled in both institutions beginning winter term.
The program also includes Oregon Coast Community College in Newport. About 250 Chemeketa students transfer to Western annually.
Almost all of Oregon's state universities currently offer a dual enrollment program with community colleges.
Students will pay the tuition and fees of the school where they're taking classes, but will have access to health and other services at both institutions.
McDonald said curriculum and advising will be more carefully aligned, to allow transfer students a more seamless transition toward a degree.
Students will also have the option of taking a course needed for graduation from either school, and paying at that institution's rate.
McDonald said this allows students to avoid class scheduling conflicts and lets them take a baccalaureate class required at Western via Chemeketa's typically cheaper tuition cost.
There was a fear that scenario could cause Western to lose revenue, McDonald said. But Oregon State University, which has a dual enrollment with several community colleges, has reported just the opposite.
"More students are entering the education pipeline," he said. "Both institutions are seeing more people taking classes."
Perhaps the most significant benefit is the ability to coordinate financial aid between the schools, said Jim Eustrom, dean of students at Chemeketa.
Most financial aid is based on a student's credit hours. For example, a Western student might take single class at Chemeketa, but not receive financial aid for it because it falls below the federal threshold.
Under this agreement, students could combine credit hours from both schools and receive a full-aid package.
"We're trying to cut down any of the barriers from moving between schools," Eustrom said, noting that a person would only have to go through an admission process once. "If you're a dual student, you can move right along."
Students will be admitted using the current Western's freshman and transfer admission requirements. The deadline will be one week before the start of classes each term based on WOU's academic calendar.
For more information: 1-877-877-1593.