Board action on tuition and fees closes engaged review process

The UO Board of Trustees approved tuition and fees for the coming academic year at its March meeting Thursday, bringing to a close a process that involved input from students, faculty and staff.

Acting on a recommendation from the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board — which includes students, faculty and staff members — trustees voted to approve a 3.8 percent increase for resident students and a 3.7 percent increase for nonresident students. The action follows an in-depth report on the university’s budget on Wednesday and additional information and public comment at the full board meeting.

“This is a pivotal time for the University of Oregon,” said board Chair Chuck Lillis following a Finance and Facilities Committee meeting Wednesday, where the university’s budget projections and the need for the increase were discussed.

“The harsh reality is that years of decreased state investment and rising costs have put the school in a tenuous financial situation,” Lillis said. “Every day, we try to figure out how to find financial efficiencies and savings, and ways to improve financial aid to students. At the same time, we have to think about serious strategic investments that can continue to improve the academic quality of the university.  The access, excellence and experience we strive to provide students is critical to our mission, but it results in rising costs and, therefore, periodic considerations of changes to tuition.”

During deliberation on tuition and fees, student trustee Helena Schelegel proposed an amendment that would reduce the tuition and fee increase to 3.3 percent for resident students and 3.4 percent for non-resident students. The proposal would have cut the increase for resident students by $1 per credit hour and the nonresident increase by $2 per credit hour.

Trustee Kurt Wilcox voiced his support of the amendment, but also noted the reality that a tuition increase at some level is necessary.

“Everyone around this table is very concerned about student debt,” Wilcox said. “We can’t do a freeze. That’s not financially responsible.”

The amendment did not pass, and the board ultimately approved the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board’s recommendation.

Following the board’s vote, a group of demonstrators who had assembled began to chant. After a period of time listening, board Chair Chuck Lillis recessed the meeting. Once the disruption was over, business resumed.

Earlier in the meeting, a number of students addressed the board during the public comment period and argued for lowering tuition and improving transparency.

A dozen people spoke to the board to express, sometimes forcefully, their concerns about issues facing the university. Several graduate students spoke about last fall’s eight-day strike, university priorities and a lawsuit filed against the UO by a sexual assault survivor, but the topic that seemed most on people’s minds was tuition.

Emily Mason, a freshman, urged the board to think about the effects tuition increases have not just on students but their families, their futures and society. She was especially concerned about college loans and debt, and said if the UO becomes unaffordable for too many, it won’t be doing its job to build an educated and productive community.

“Tuition raises don’t exist in a vacuum; the student isn’t the only person affected by the raise,” Mason said. “The entire society must deal with the consequences of their debt.”

“No one wants to raise tuition, and we know students will be frustrated with the vote,” Trustee Joe Gonyea said Wednesday. “Frankly, I’m frustrated too, but frustration doesn’t change the financial realities and pressures facing the UO. “Substantial increases in retirement and benefit costs — which the university doesn’t control — uncertain increases in employee costs due to current bargaining and a desire to increase services and offerings to students all play a role in this decision.”

In other business, the board also approved:

  • The 2015-16 fee book.
  • The acceptance of a gift of real property.
  • A revised policy on establishing university policies.
  • A revised process for committee approval of submissions to the Higher Education Coordinating Committee.
  • Use of a consent calendar at future board meetings.

 By Tobin J. Klinger, Public Affairs Communications