Want to brush up on your European history while knocking out that welding training course? Chances are you can do both, maybe even on the same campus, at one of the dozens of colleges and universities in and around Salem. Four-year and two-year institutions provide an array of credit and non-credit classes while also offering job-training and certificate programs. There's also a strong connection to the area's public-school system, allowing rising juniors and seniors to get early college credits, saving them both time and money down the road. Best of all, the sheer number of institutions guarantees that area residents are spoiled with choices. There's Willamette University, which has approximately 1,800 students and 760 graduate students in its law, business and teaching programs; Corban College & Graduate School, an independent Christian college with more than 50 majors and programs of study; Western Oregon University, a comprehensive, public library arts college in nearby Monmouth; and Portland State University, which has about 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in its various degree programs. In the middle of it all is Chemeketa Community College. "We're involved in the community at a lot of levels," says Cheryl Roberts, president. "We have a unique mission, which is really to be the nexus of higher education. We were originated to provide access, opportunity and equity for those folks who want to go on for a four-year degree, for those who just want a two-year degree and for those who want to come, or come back, for a particular skill." By providing training for good, mid-wage jobs, the school often helps existing workers learn skills for career advancement while also preparing the next generation of professionals for entering the workforce. "One of the things we're here to do is help people get the skills they need for our employers here in the valley," Roberts says. "On our campus they can take the kinds of courses and classes that are well received in our industries, and we also help the businesses find and train their people. That really is the community college's niche in higher education." As an example of how this works well, Roberts points to the fall 2008 decision by Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. to build a new factory for the production of solar ingots and wafers used to produce solar photovoltaic cells. "They wanted to look at how they would train new employees to craft and develop those cells," Roberts says. "We're part of every conversation with a new business looking at or coming into the area." To further raise the college's profile in that regard, it is opening the new Chemeketa Center for Business & Industry in fall 2009. The building will house the college's workforce and business development programs and serve as a strong bridge between town and gown when it comes to economic development.