Hello, students of Oregon State University. My name is Brett Morgan and I serve as the student representative on the OSU board of trustees. As you may have heard on Thursday, March 31, I voted to raise tuition by 2.2 percent per credit hour for resident students. While it may seem problematic and even contradictory that I voted to increase tuition on my peers and myself alike, I felt that I owed it to my fellow students an explanation on my own thinking and decision making when approaching this complicated issue.
I want to first and foremost say that I am on the students side: your side. I have spent my three years in college fighting and empowering my peers to fight for student issues. I have missed class, given up social obligations, and foregone endless amounts of sleep lobbying and testifying in Salem, meeting with university administrators, and organizing on student issues. I have done and continue to this work in order to fight for more accessible and equitable system of education.
This coming year, the 2.2 percent credit hour increase that I voted for is vital to pay for programs that the University must have. The largest driver of this increase is mandatory employee state benefits programs: Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) and Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB). PERS and PEBB fund healthcare and retirement savings for your professors and other public employees at OSU and across the state, and are vital for the wellbeing of all employed by OSU.
In addition, this increase pays for the creation of the Office of Institutional Diversity as a part of the University’s efforts to create a more socially just campus. These three items sit firmly in the driver’s seat of tuition for this year. I could not, in good faith, choose not fund mandatory employee benefits programs for healthcare or retirement, nor could I vote against funding for the Office of Institutional Diversity. If this tuition increase was not passed, the University would be forced to cut other student programs, not dissimilar to how the international degree program is being cut.
While there are many moving parts in the equation of tuition, this increase was not because of wasteful spending or careless administrators. This increase is necessary to allow OSU to continue to exist and change into a better, more inclusive place.
The real issue is that the State of Oregon continues to divest in higher education. In the last several decades the state flipped from paying 70 percent of your education cost with 30 percent out of student pockets to the state paying 30 percent of your education and students making pay 70 percent out of their own pockets. That’s why I have fought and continue fight in Salem for students. Last year my work along with the work of my peers and other groups from across the state resulted in the first increase in state funding for higher education in 10 years. This is why this tuition increase is the lowest in 10 years at OSU.
I take no increase lightly, and I continue to advocate to the board the extreme financial burdens that higher education shackles its students to, and I think this is reflected in the fact that OSU has the lowest increases of any of the public institutions in Oregon. Universities across the state are asking for as much as 4% or 5% in tuition increases. While any increase is not fair to students in any regard, we must feel fortunate that OSU is working in every capacity possible to limit barriers to higher education. This isn’t to say that this is good enough. Business as usual is simply not good enough. I have challenged the board and administrators alike to think creatively and boldly to find ways to find savings in the budget any way possible to keep as many dollars in student pockets as possible.
At the end of the day the real solution to making OSU and public higher education more affordable comes from working in Salem, and making the legislature reinvest in the same public educations many of them received. I want to reach out to my fellow students and student groups and extend that my ears are always open and I am always willing to take ideas and converse about issues. I continue to stand by my decision, not because I think it was the idealistic thing to do, rather I stand behind it because I think it was and is the best decision for students and OSU together.
The opinions expressed in Morgan’s column do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer Staff.