Chemeketa president confident in future

Dr. Jessica Howard’s passion and excitement is understandable. The president of Chemeketa Community College is always ready to talk about community colleges in general and the Salem school specifically.

Community college is not a step-child to four-year universities—it plays an important role for  diverse demographics including high school graduates, those continuing their professional education and those seeking to garner a high school diploma.

President Howard is bullish on the future of Chemeketa.

“I have extreme confidence that community colleges are going to become even more critical,” she said, citing the negative effects of the COVID pandemic.  “We’re seeing students who are less prepared for college, even with a high school credential,” she continued. Howard said the college will slowly get more students who did not have success during the pandemic.

The recent national shortage led many students directly into the job market. “A lot of young people, because of the job market, (were) getting a job at a local fast food store for $18 an hour and signing bonus,” said Howard. “It sounds great. Well, in five years, everything that can be automated will be, and those folks who are now accustomed to that wage are not going to have a way to make a living. They’re gonna have to get education and training. Where are they going to come? Likely the community college.”

Community college can be a first step in continuing education after high school, but before a four-year university, if that is their choice. It is also a rung on the ladder for additional education once one is in the work force.

“We are the most affordable public option,” said President Howard. That’s the message, along with the myriad of classes and programs that she wants everyone to know.

Besides proximity to Keizer students and affordability, Chemeketa Community College offers what most universities cannot: a low instructor-to-student ratio. Rather than attending a university class with upwards to 200 students, no class at Chemekta has more than 30 or 35 students. That points to a good education where a student isn’t just a number.

A student who attends Chemeketa can find the usual college fare plus a number of new programs. When completed and a certificate obtained, a student will be ready to enter the workforce in the jobs that need workers.

For example, in partnership with Willamette Workforce Partnership and Worksource Oregon, Chemeketa offers Commercial Driving License (CDL), or 

or truck driving training, which will result in knowledge and skills needed to earn a CDL in four weeks. There is currently a need for about 80,000 truck drivers across the country.

To its wine studies Chemeketa has added programs in a  wide variety of tourism-related fields. They  offer professional development opportunities for workers in the tourism industry.

In the next term a community health worker program will begin. It is a short-term credential utilizing integrated education and training programs. Citing the approximately 50,000 people in Chemekta’s service area who have less than an associate’s degree or are underemployed, Howard said this program will help them get the training needed that can lead to a living wage job.

Chemeketa is the  first Oregon community college to offer an applied bachelor’s degree, which is a new type of degree. They are bachelor-level, workforce-oriented programs that prepare students for high-value career opportunities with the most active employers and industries.

The program is designed to develop advanced technical knowledge, strengthen analytical skills, enhance communication skills and broaden students’ awareness through interdisciplinary topics.

A person spending time with Dr. Howard will come away inspired by her enthusiasm for community colleges in general. Chemeketa Community College is an asset that shouldn’t be dismissed.

There are a number of financial programs that help pay for tuition. The Oregon Promise is a state grant that helps cover tuition costs at any Oregon community college for recent high school graduates and GED test graduates. Eligible candidates must have a 2.0 cumulative high school GPA or higher, or a 145 grade on all GED tests. It is a good way for those who think they don’t qualify for college to continue their higher education.

Whether continuing education after high school or wanting to add to their knowledge to move up the ladder at their job, Chemeketa Community College offers programs, flexibility and financial assistance to fit the needs of the region.