Students will continue to feel the strain of rising tuition at UO this year, but for some, confusion surrounds how their money is being spent.
This year, UO’s budget increased $17.5 million, primarily from increased tuition costs.
The budget increase is required because of the recent unionization and collective bargaining done by UO faculty members.
The four-year-old United Academics Union, lead by professor of sociology Michael Dreiling recently won salary increases for its nearly 1,800 members that make up much of the faculty at UO.
“All that labor, which is the main expense at the university of Oregon, is the most vital asset of the university,” Dreiling said. “You need to invest in your crucial asset if you want excellence. I think President [Michael] Schill is getting this … You can’t have a top-notch university without the robust expenditures and the people who make the university excellent.”
Faculty at UO have ranked at the bottom of a peer group of nine universities in terms of salary. In a 2015-16 AAUP Salary Survey Study, the UO lags behind its peers’ in every category.
Data that reflects the raises to faculty will not be available until October according to the Office of Institutional Research.
When the Tuition Fees and Advisory Board voted to increase tuition by 4.8 and 4.5 percent for resident and out-of-state students respectively in January, students rallied in protest,. ASUO members participated in the public comments section during the March Board of Trustees meeting in order to express their discontent with the Board’s refusal to work with them.
“We’re not willing to work with you if you’re not willing to work with us,” Shawn Stevenson, ASUO Finance Director said at that meeting the Emerald reported earlier this year.
Some students accused the TFAB of holding a vote after student representatives and activists had to leave for class. Students also accused TFAB of holding an open forum when the most active students would be in the capitol, lobbying for higher education funding.
“Our students should not be starving,” ASUO Local Affairs Commissioner Amy Schenk said about tuition costs. “I personally believe that education is a right.”
State funding for the University of Oregon has consistently climbed since a major decrease of 32.25 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, but tuition prices have continued to climb as well, nullifying the increased state funding.
Here is where the money is going.
Last year, tuition and fees accounted for 42.2 percent of the income for UO, a drop from the 46 percent that the same dollars represented in 2013-14. Beginning in the 2009-10 school year, tuition and fees at UO began to climb by significantly — an 18 percent increase from 2008-09 to 2009-10.
Tuition for in-state students rose 10.2 percent in the 2011-12 school year, then 7.3 percent, 5.9 percent, 4.9 percent and 1.6 percent in the following school years. The xx percent increase for 2016-17 represents the first spike in tuition increases since 20xx.
“Tuition dollars are general fund dollars,” Brad Shelton vice provost for budget and planning said in an email to the Emerald. “They pay for most of the basic operations of the academic and administrative portions of the university,”
Items such as electricity, paper and non-wireless internet as well as the salaries of professors, counselors and Title IX investigators are paid for by tuition. Shelton clarified that tuition dollars are generally not used to pay for auxiliaries such as housing, parking and the student recreation center.
The Best Investment
Anyone who has taken microeconomics will be familiar with opportunity costs —the highest-valued alternative that must be sacrificed in order to get something else. The question of whether college is still worth the wages and time foregone in the workplace is still answered with a resounding yes according to UO economics professor Bill Harbaugh.
“The real cost of going to college is the income you sacrifice while going to college,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s OK because the return in terms of higher income is so high that it wipes out all those other costs [of going to college]. Easily.“
The UO is the sixth most-affordable college in Oregon for in-state students, according to collegecalc.com, and the 22nd most affordable school for out-of-state students..
“About 48 percent of our students get some type of federal aid,” Jim Brooks Director of Financial Aid said. “I would be surprised, at where our costs are, if students are needy they wouldn’t be exploring every option they have to help pay for college.”
In January, Marketwatch reported the outstanding bill for student debt in the US was $1.2 trillion, or 37,471,896 years of school at the UO paying current out of state tuition and fees. Student loan debt is second only to mortgages.
Much of the financial aid that is available comes in the form of student loans. Money that is used today and must be paid back tomorrow. Pay as you earn plans have been constructed to help relieve some pressure on students to payback their loans. Some professions have a loan forgiveness aspect built into them in order to encourage specific areas of work. But not all financial aid has to be paid back.
Two of the largest contributors to students at UO in terms of aid are grants that at least a quarter of the student body qualifies for. The Oregon Opportunity Program provides about $6 to $6.5 million a year for students at UO said Brooks. While only Oregon residents are eligible for an opportunity grant, the federal Pell grant is available to all needy students, offering $5,815 a year on the high end to $580 on the low. Eligibility for the program is determined when students fill out a FAFSA and can be applied for at any point in the year to still receive the full year’s funding.
Students are now facing the hard reality of increasing costs; however, they are weighing the painful sacrifices against potential benefits.
“The financial reality of the upcoming academic year is not pleasant, but it is clear,” said Chuck Lillis, chair of the board. “Continually rising labor costs, unfunded mandates and the ongoing pursuit of excellence are not inexpensive, and they are not all met by the state’s relatively low investment in higher education.”
Correction: A previous version of this article contained an error in the spelling of ASUO Local Affairs Commissioner Amy Schenk’s name and an incorrect title. This has since been corrected. The Emerald regrets this error.