Hayden Lohr, Photographer
Public colleges, including Oregon State University, have received less state funding in recent years, forcing students and families to make up the difference, but many wonder where this increasing tuition goes.
According to Steve Clark, the vice president for University Relations and Marketing, about one-third of OSU’s education and general budget comes from the state, while two-thirds of that budget comes from student tuition.
“If you look at what we spend for the Corvallis campus, 75% of our [tuition] spending is people, salaries and benefits for faculty, staff, graduate assistants, everybody—student employees,” said Sherman Bloomer, vice president for Budget and Resource Planning. “The rest of it is going to all the things you need to operate the campus, like utilities, insurance, maintenance.”
The amount of funding that universities get from the state, according to a 2019 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—a nonpartisan research and policy institute—has decreased in recent years. At the same time, CBPP reported that in 41 states nationwide, universities have spent less per student between the years of 2008 and 2018 by an average of $1,220—or about 13% of average tuition.
“Tuition has gone up faster than the cost of inflation for years,” Bloomer said. “What that doesn’t necessarily mean is that the cost per student has gone up by the same amount… What’s changed is who pays the cost of education; 20 years ago, the state was paying nearly half the cost of education..”
According to the CBPP report, the average amount states spent on public universities represented about 54% of university funding for teaching and instruction in 2018.
Now, Bloomer said the amount Oregon spent on OSU’s education funding is closer to 20%, which is well below the average. This trend, according to Bloomer, does not entirely come from the financial crash of 2008; this has been an ongoing trend for decades now.
According to the CBPP report, when colleges don’t get enough money from the state, they are forced to make up the difference, which typically means increased student fees. Different services and scholarships begin to disappear, and, in some circumstances, staff and facilities are cut. This has a greater effect on low-income Black and Latino students, according to the research institute Demos, who often rely more heavily on federal grants and loans to take part in higher education.
Despite increasing student tuition, some OSU students do not know where that money goes or even where to find that information.
“I think it’s [lack of budget transparency] done on purpose to an extent,” said Ryleigh Anderson, a sociology major at OSU. “This makes me think of when you go to the doctor and ask for an itemized bill, you get lower costs… Making it an itemized bill makes them more accountable and forces them to be more reasonable in their pricing. That might be similar to this situation, that if these numbers are public and easily accessible, then more people will question it.”
A breakdown of the OSU budget is available on the tuition and fees website, which has links to monthly budget talks held by Bloomer. These are held over Zoom and feature a Q&A at the end where students can ask questions about the university budget and tuition.
“We try very hard to be transparent about the budget here, but that doesn’t mean it’s understandable,” Bloomer said. “I am looking for ways to make the budget more transparent for all the OSU community… given the caveat that it is a large complicated institution.”
According to Bloomer, student tuition only covers what is called “education and general funds” at OSU. Grants and scholarships are in the category of “restricted funds” and other areas such as sports go into “self-support.”
On the Office of Finance and Administration web page, there are documents detailing the budget, exactly where it goes and how much each department costs.
These, however, are only shown by the college level. For example, the budget for the College of Engineering is shown to be $40 million, but the documents do not include more specific costs for smaller sections of the university, such as the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.
Anyone can request a breakdown of certain budget areas in more detail. According to Bloomer, this information is not on the webpage because if every single department was shown in detail, it would be shown through an Excel sheet with thousands of lines of budget information.
For a breakdown of the miscellaneous fees in student tuition, the Associated Students of OSU will give a breakdown if requested, as they are responsible for handling those fees. However, this is a small amount of total student tuition.
“I would think [budget breakdowns] probably [are hard to find] because they’re expecting that students wouldn’t like the budget breakdown,” Anderson said. “Making it hard to get to solves that issue.”