Update: New state funding could alleviate in-state tuition increase

In-state students may see a tuition increase reprieve if state lawmakers decide to push $70 million across the table to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission this year.

The HECC voted down a 10.6 percent tuition increase for Oregon residents last month before approving the hike weeks later. Despite student protests and strong condemnation of the decision by ASUO, University of Oregon administrators insisted the increase was necessary to cover rising costs.

Now, Senate Bill 5524 will potentially increase the Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s budget by $90 million next biennium. The public university support fund is set to increase 10.4 percent, or about $70 million.

Tobin Klinger, a UO spokesman, said the university has been working in Salem for months to encourage more investment in higher education.

“We’re really thrilled that they have recognized the value of higher education to the state of Oregon,” Klinger said. “They are a partner in helping to provide critical relief in terms of tuition cost.”

If the Legislative Fiscal Office’s proposal is accepted, universities will be required to roll back their tuition increases by 3 to 4 percent. According to the senate bill materials, UO would be required to hold its tuition increase to 6.56 percent next year.

In November, UO President Michael Schill, along with the presidents of Oregon’s six other public universities, wrote a letter to state legislators asking for $100 million. Schill has said that if the state increases funding by that amount, tuition increases would be capped at 5 percent. According to Schill, every $20 million the state pledges to higher education funding, the UO will be able to reduce its tuition increase by 1 percent.

One month after the university presidents requested $100 million, Gov. Kate Brown released her budget for the 2017-19 biennium. That budget offered increases to K-12 spending but held funding for public universities flat, a move described by administrators as an effectual cut.

Now it appears that Brown and other lawmakers are reconsidering their position, considering the heavy burden students are bearing for their education.

At the time, higher education funding was held static due to the $1.6 billion shortfall the state faced over the next two years. It is still unclear where this $70 million will come from.

If the bill passes, the UO Board of Trustees will reconvene in order to determine what the new tuition cost will be, Klinger said. Because they already approved the 10.6 percent increase, they will have to vote on a new cost. Klinger said the school would be able to reduce the tuition increase significantly.

“The proposed higher education budget would bring critical tuition relief to the students of the University of Oregon, allowing us to reduce next year’s tuition increase by more than a third,” Schill said in a prepared statement. “I want to thank the state’s legislative leaders for this important step in the right direction. I hope it is a sign of the state’s continuing commitment to supporting an excellent, accessible higher education system for all Oregonians.”

The Senate recommended on July 1 to pass the bill with amendments following a work session June 30.

Follow Max Thornberry on Twitter @Max_Thornberry .

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Max Thornberry

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