Graphic by Natalie Lutz | Orange Media Network
Three proposals for tuition rates to be decided on by Board of Trustees.
Three proposed tuition rates for the next academic year—each of which includes increases for all students—were created by the Oregon State University Budget Committee. The OSU Board of Trustees will choose between them on Friday, April 6.
Currently, tuition accounts for 70 percent of the funding for OSU’s academic programs. Next year’s increases will go toward financial aid, as well as increased costs of university operations.
These costs are primarily driven upwards by personnel—raises and benefits for faculty and staff, said the university’s director of Budget and Fiscal Planning Sherman Bloomer. The state of Oregon requires university employees to participate in public retirement and healthcare plans, which draw increases every year to continue operating, and cost more than private plans would.
“Every year there is something we can change, but those inflationary costs are around $13-14 million a year,” Bloomer said. “There are not a lot of $13-14 million things you can stop doing. Even if you stop doing them this year, next year you have the same problem.”
Bloomer linked the need for tuition increases each year to historical trends in state budgets. In 1970, nearly 75 percent of the funding for Oregon’s public universities came from the state government, while today this source accounts for only 20 percent for OSU, Bloomer said. Until the state’s side of the equation changes, he expects OSU tuition to increase every year.
The University Budget Committee recommended that the Board of Trustees discuss keeping this increase between 1.5-4.5 percent, unless outside factors made this impossible, Bloomer said. Other large public universities around the nation are facing similar changes in their state’s priorities, while some students believe higher education should be a public right instead of a private expense.
“Many of us that work in higher education would argue that indeed that should be true, but the reality is that it is not true right now,” Bloomer said. “States have increasingly turned to students and families to fund the cost of higher education.”
Bloomer has met with a number of student groups during the tuition-setting process to explain the three proposals and the broader context around the university’s budget.
“The conversations have been very positive and thoughtful,” Bloomer said. “I am not asking the student groups to endorse a tuition increase. I am trying to understand what their concerns and questions are.”
When the Board of Trustees votes on the tuition rates in April, barring an unforeseen change in enrollment or other financial issue, they will be set in stone.
Bloomer compared OSU’s tuition rates to other institutions around the country, such as Michigan State University and The Ohio State University, noting that OSU’s rates are below the median of its peer schools. An hour’s drive away, at the University of Oregon, tuition will go up 2.8 percent next year for Oregon residents, after a 6.6 percent increase last year.
“All of us need to recognize that tuition needs to go up as the cost of running the university goes up,” Bloomer said. “We want to find ways so that students themselves are not paying—it is through financial aid and scholarships or other sources.”