ASUO: Students should have a voice in deciding tuition increases

This piece reflects the views of the authors, Amy Schenk, Tess Mor and Vickie Gimm, and not those of Emerald Media Group. They are the ASUO president, internal vice president and external vice president respectively. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

Last week, University President Michael Schill announced his support of the 2018-19 tuition and fee recommendation from the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board (TFAB).

TFAB’s recommendations include a 2.84 percent increase for resident undergraduate students and a 2.49 percent increase for nonresident undergraduate students. For resident students, this represents an increase of $6 per credit hour or $270 per year. Nonresident undergraduate students would see tuition rise by $18 per credit hour or $810 annually. In addition, students taking courses in the Lundquist College of Business will be charged an additional $20 per credit hour.

Student representatives opposed the potential increase and the prospect of differential tuition. Throughout the tuition process, students had opportunities to share concerns about the potential tuition increases, but their voices had little real impact on the administrative discussions about tuition. The administration has allowed opportunities for student input, but seemingly only as a performative act with no intention of considering the students’ worries. For example, the provost only allowed three days for students to comment before he would notify the Board of Trustees about the tuition proposal.

The night before the campus was notified about the increase and the potential approval of differential tuition, the provost hosted a student forum where students were able to give input and share stories about the effect of past tuition increases. The intention was to share these concerns with the provost before he finalized his proposal. The day after, the campus was notified of President Schill’s support of the proposal, even though the forum supposedly allowed time for the Provost to comprehensively hear students’ thoughts before bringing a recommendation to the President. It seems as if the final decision was made before the forum, and the event was just for show.

In addition, the effect of differential tuition on business students was not adequately researched. Only 35 students of the current 4,687 were asked about differential tuition, and the sample size consisted of student leaders, not a complete representation of the diverse students in the College of Business. Leaders of business clubs are not a representative sample of business students, and neglecting to survey a diverse group of students might not capture the opinions of marginalized students, who will be greatly affected by this policy. Student representatives on TFAB pointed this issue out early on in the process so there was time to fix it, but TFAB members still chose not to conduct more research. Vickie Gimm, our ASUO external vice president, committed her personal time and resources to conduct a more inclusive survey, the results of which were ignored by the administration.

When we were under the Oregon University System (OUS), it was required for universities to seek discussions with student representatives: under OUS differential tuition policy Section 1(e)((i)), “All differential tuition plans must show evidence of extensive and thorough consultation with students who will be affected, both via student representative groups and via organized opinion gathering among the students that would be charged the differential” (OUS). While these bylaws were created for a system we no longer have, it is vital for us to gain insight from old policies to understand potential avenues for solutions in the present. We realize that differential tuition may be inevitable. However, we urge the administration to develop a well-researched policy and try again. We need a policy before implementing decisions that will greatly affect the students at one of our highest-ranking colleges.

Lack of solid policy on differential tuition at the university will create future problems. If other colleges want to implement differential tuition, we should first create fair and clear guidelines that establish a process for how to do so. We want a proper survey of how this will affect students, including the effects on student access to services, financial impact and admissibility into the college. The current financial aid plan is unacceptable. Differential tuition will have an outsize effect on marginalized students.

We cannot allow the administration to ignore the effects of tuition hikes on students. Continuing to make decisions that directly affect students at this university without acknowledging how it will affect them is not an acceptable way to run an institution of higher education. To students who want to participate in the fight, attend the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, March 2. Come speak directly to the decision makers that will be voting on the tuition increases proposed, including differential tuition.

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