Columbia Gorge Community College is holding the line on tuition for the 2014-15 academic year to keep education affordable for students who are struggling financially.
“The administration and board of directors are concerned about the economy and making sure students can use their financial aid for living expenses as well as school,” said Tria Bullard, director of board and executive services.
The tuition rate for the upcoming year will be $89 per credit, plus a $10 service fee.
There are currently 595 full-time and 1,203 part-time students taking classes, according to Bullard. Full-time status is given to students who have registered for at least 12 credits during at least one term of the academic year.
In addition to keeping tuition rates low, the college has paved the way for 24 high school students each year with a grade point average of 3.5 or better to get up to 18 credits per term at the cost of only books and auxiliary fees.
The tuition-waiver program is run on a first come-first-serve basis and applicants must have graduated from a high school, or be a registered homeschool student, within the college’s service area. In addition to maintaining a good grade point average, they must have earned the required minimum scores on the college’s placement test or equivalent.
They must also plan to enroll full-time (12 to 18 credits) in fall term after graduation or diploma completion. Graduates who join the military within three months of earning a diploma will retain eligibility if they enroll at the college within six months of being discharged.
Once accepted into the program, gorge scholars must take classes throughout the academic year for at least 12 credits, maintain a grade point average of 3.25 or better, and perform eight hours of documented community service.
Area high school students can also take a college-level writing class that allows them to earn credits for higher education.
The college is currently undergoing an analysis about how to train more workers for high-tech firms in the gorge. The results of that study will be tallied this summer so the board has updated information when making decisions about how to achieve that goal.
“We are looking at how to do things more efficiently and in new ways,” said Bullard, “and asking ‘What are some ways we can teach with local resources?’”
For example, she said science classes involving fermentation could be taught at a local brewery or a vineyard, rather than in a school facility.
The plan is to build an advanced technology center on the Hood River campus and augment classroom learning with real-life lessons.
The college received a $7.32 million funding pledge from the state in 2013 for the new center if matching dollars can be found.
Dan Spatz, development director for the college, said officials are looking into all of the options for that funding, including the possibility of obtaining capital from a private foundation, before deciding whether to ask voters to approve a bond levy.
“We are taking the time to have conversations with community partners and looking at what we can do with existing facilities as well as a new building,” he said. “We want to know that we can sustain anything that we come up with.”
He said the college is working with Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and Mid-Columbia Housing Authority to meet these workforce challenges for the growing number of high-tech firms in the area:
• Improve local access to four-year university programs.
• Provide more professional development training opportunities.
• Overcome the scarcity of attainable housing for middle to upper-middle income workers in the area.
“These are significant roadblocks and we are working on all of them,” said Spatz.
On May 16, he said a summit will be held in White Salmon to field ideas about how to overcome those barriers and increase tourism and recreational opportunities. He said Oregon and Washington legislators serving citizens in the Mid-Columbia region will be invited to attend and gain a better understanding of rural needs.
“We are looking at the Columbia Gorge as one community,” he said.