The following commentary by UO President Michael H. Schill and ASUO President Quinn Haaga recently appeared on the editorial pages of The Oregonian:
Last week, the University of Oregon’ s Board of Trustees approved a 10.6 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduate students next year. The board accepted the university’s recommendation from a tuition and finance committee that worked for months looking for ways to close the university’s looming budget gap.
No one — not the board, university leadership, faculty, staff or students — wanted to see such a significant increase in tuition. However, this amount is not set in stone. It is based on the proposed state budget drafted by Oregon legislative budget writers that leaves funding to higher education flat and does not account for considerable increases in expenses that are largely out of public universities’ control. The state budget may not be finalized until June or July.
As the presidents of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) and the University of Oregon, we are deeply concerned that, without additional funding, this double-digit tuition increases will create significant hardship for UO students and their families, potentially leaving some talented and deserving Oregon students on the higher education sidelines.
Two decades of cuts to higher education have taken a toll on Oregon families. The burden of paying for a college education has shifted to students and their families as levels of state support delivered to the UO and other institutions have not returned to where they were before the economic downturn in 2008. This trend is not sustainable for Oregon's universities or the students they serve.
The research is clear that those who earn a four-year college degree are likely to be more productive, financially stable, and even healthier and happier than those who do not go to college. Yet Oregon is on the wrong end of the national spectrum for higher education funding. There are only four states that provide less funding for higher education than Oregon, and this is crippling some Oregonians’ ability to afford a college degree.
When you combine 20 years of budget cuts with significant cost increases that are outside the control of universities, you inevitably face severe challenges in balancing the budget. The UO is planning to continue to cut costs and look for more efficiencies, but with tuition accounting for more than 80 percent of the university’s operating budget, the institution has no choice but to raise tuition to bridge the budget gap.
Later this week we, the ASUO students and university leaders, will rally in Salem for UO Day at the Capitol as we urge Oregon lawmakers to reconsider their draft budget and reinvest in higher education. If lawmakers increase funding to Oregon universities, the UO can potentially cut that tuition increase in half.
Oregon universities have estimated that an additional $100 million in state funding is needed to keep tuition increases manageable for students and to protect critical services at the University of Oregon, including financial aid and student success programs. The current proposed level of state support threatens the affordability and accessibility of a college education for Oregonians.
Every $20 million addition in state higher education would translate roughly to a 1 percentage point decrease in tuition at the University of Oregon.
A vibrant public education system is a vital component of a thriving economy and prosperous future for Oregon. The UO is educating the workforce of tomorrow and preparing our state’s future leaders. This campus fosters innovations and discoveries that make the world a better place.
Students and administrators do not always see eye to eye. But this year, we stand united in the belief that Oregon must find a way to provide additional support for our higher education system and reduce the size of tuition increases. There is still time to address this issue, and we are committed to working proactively with lawmakers to find solutions that protect students and do not close the doors of opportunity to future generations Oregonians.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law
University of Oregon
Associated Students of the University of Oregon