State budget concerns, rumors of possible tuition hikes

ASUO President Ben Eckstein prompted speculation at last week’s ASUO Senate meeting over the possibility of midyear tuition increases after he listed it as one of his reasons for postponing the EMU referendum. This week, the University administration has announced that it plans to keep tuition rates and surcharge fees stagnate for the time being.

“We are not planning to raise tuition within this academic year,” said Vice President of Finance and Administration Frances [email protected]@[email protected]@ “We made this decision last spring.”

The possibility of tuition hikes would derive from a possible revenue shortfall within the overall budget for the State of Oregon. Although entirely speculative at the moment, further deficits in the state budget would likely translate into cuts to higher education. Eckstein’s concern stems in part from similar circumstances when state revenue shortfall resulted in cuts to higher education in spring 2009, which culminated in extra tuition surcharge fees at the University. But Dyke is adamant that this will not happen this academic year, even if a shortfall occurs.

“We’re much stronger financially now than we were when those old surcharges were imposed, and high enrollment numbers have helped our funding,” Dyke said.

The next two revenue forecasts will inform the state legislature if a deficit is imminent, and if so, the legislature would be forced to make budget cuts that many times include the funding for higher education. The Oregon State Board of Higher Education would need to approve any changes if the University did decide to adopt midyear tuition hikes. But the academic year fee book is adopted annually, making it harder to change rates once they have been set by the Board. In order to do so, the current rates must be repealed and readopted, which is a lengthy process.

Even so, Eckstein is concerned that Dyke’s assurance that there will not be tuition rate or surcharge fee changes is [email protected]@good call@@ @@No, not a good [email protected]@

“I think that we will not be able to tell what will happen until the next two revenue forecasts,” Eckstein said. “It is unusual for a VP of finance to make such a claim without having some level of information we don’t have access to.”

The Oregon University System agrees with Dyke in saying that midyear hikes are not likely but acknowledges that the possibility will not be quashed until the revenue forecasts are reported.

“It is still too early to tell what the next two revenue forecasts will hold,” OUS spokesperson Diane Saunders [email protected]@ “But we have been asked to look at budget reduction scenarios to plan around possible cut backs just in case. But in my nine years with OUS, I have never seen changes to tuition rates happen midyear.”

The budget note for tuition increases is what caps tuition from increasing by 8 percent in a single year and 9 percent in the biennium, and was put in place during the 2009 legislative session. The state has already withheld 3.5 percent of the University’s budget for the 2011-13 biennium as emergency funding for a budget shortfall scenario.

“We assumed we would not get the 3.5 percent of withheld funds back and have budgeted with this in mind,” Dyke said.

Although many believe Oregon’s economy is improving, no one will know for sure until the new revenue forecasts are set. The next forecast is set to be released on Nov. 17.

“The burden of the cost of education and burden of budget cuts shouldn’t be placed on the backs of students,” said Emily McLain, Oregon Student Association Executive [email protected]@ “We strongly advocated for the budget note capping tuition increases, and we will be very disappointed if these hikes do happen.”

This story has been amended to correct an error in a quote by Eckstein.

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