Yanez: Stop pushing capital project funding onto students

Have you ever seen what goes into your tuition and fees? We often hear how tuition is $9,495 per year for residents, but then comes the $2,076 in fees. Why are they so high? It’s understandable that the university would charge us for maintenance and access fees for things like buildings and even the Recreational Center. But did you know that we’re charged for the Rec twice?

There are two reasons for this. One is because students in 1997 voted to approve one of the two fees to retire the debt incurred to build and renovate the Rec, which became a flat fee in 2009. Before 1999, the Rec we know and love today didn’t exist. The other reason is because the Rec was expanded in 2015 and the university went into debt for the expansion. As we progress into 2018 and beyond, we’ve heard about the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and Tykeson Hall. But how is the university paying for all of these expansions with a drop in the student population?

UO and Debt: A Match Made in Heaven

We have good reason to believe the UO will go into debt for expansions. Aside from the 2015 Rec expansion, the recent EMU expansion also takes a portion of our fees. Every student pays $67 per term in the form of an EMU Facility Fee, which started in Fall 2014. To justify collecting the fee so early, the university stated “Revenue from the fee is necessary to pay bond debt incurred to cover design and construction costs.” The expansion cost $95 million, $5 million of which is claimed to be privately funded. However, according to the website, the UO has raised less than half of that $5 million in private donations. Students will likely be paying this off for the next several decades.

It’s important to note that according to the EMU Proposal by its Director, Laurie Woodward, declines in enrollment have caused the EMU to have a deficit in its payments of $104,294. She states “We…have been told not to anticipate more than a 2.25 percent increase” in the current EMU fee. An increase of 2.25 percent would raise the EMU fee from $67 per term to $68.51 per term.

What about the Knight Campus, which is supposedly a $2 billion campaign? According to the university, it “will not take dollars away from other units on campus, nor will it change the UO’s broader fundraising strategy and goals.” So far, $500 million of the $2 billion has been donated by Phil Knight, but what does the university mean by “broader fundraising strategy and goals?” Without much explanation, students may speculate that they will ultimately be saddled with the funding of this new campus.

Who Sets Tuition and Fees?

Depending on how long you’ve been a student at the University of Oregon, you may be familiar with the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board, or TFAB. The board, which is made up of mostly faculty and administrators, sets tuition and fees. Only 4 out of 16 TFAB members for fiscal year 2018 are students, two of which are ASUO members. This is a gross conflict of interest since the other 12 members receive a salary from the university. When people receive a salary and are in charge of proposing tuition, it’s pretty unlikely that they’re going to decrease tuition if it means taking a pay cut. This 4:1 majority ensures that students have a voice, but our voices may be nothing more than a waste of hot air.

It is clear that one reason why students dropout of college is high tuition. Why doesn’t the UO experiment with lowered tuition? University leaders hope to expand the undergraduate population to over 22,000, up from 19,351 this year, by 2025. The university seems to think that charging students higher tuition without increasing the quality of its education will result in higher enrollment.

Tykeson Hall

If you peruse the area near Chapman Hall, you might have noticed a fenced-off area with a big hole in the ground. In Fall 2019, Tykeson Hall will open its doors in that very spot. According to the university, its purpose is to be a “home base” for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), rather than having it sprawled throughout campus in 49 buildings.

The university also reports that it will be the new home for the career center, contain classrooms and essentially act as an advising center for CAS. Though UO doesn’t appear to be going into debt for Tykeson Hall, students should keep an eye on its development.

A map of all construction projects can be found on the university’s website.

UO Should be Held Accountable

With a decline in student population, it hardly seems appropriate to build so many new buildings and raise tuition. According to the unaudited financial report for the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, page 13, the University of Oregon appears to have more than $1.1 billion “in the bank,” with a net gain of $2.44 million.

It’s understandable that the university wants to have a large financial cushion for a rainy day, but it’s preposterous that the university forces students to pay off its debt for the Rec and EMU expansions when it appears to have money to do it itself. This would make fees $587 per student per term or $1,761 per year instead of nearly $2,100 per year. The administration seems to be okay with financially abusing the very students they claim to care about. We deserve better. Let’s be fair: How many of us would make the same claim if we made 3 to 22 times what most Americans make?

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Ted Yanez

Ted Yanez

Ted is an opinion columnist for the Daily Emerald. An Oregon native, he loves to write about economics, politics, and whatever else comes to mind.