Carrying signs saying “I’m not a piggy bank” and “Are these numbers even real?”, about 50 students rallied in front of Johnson Hall on Feb. 3 to protest another proposed tuition hike — this one even higher than last year’s.

This isn’t an unfamiliar scene at the University of Oregon: over the last decade, tuition and fees at the UO have increased by almost $5,000 for in-state students and nearly $14,000 for non-resident students. Last year, UO students disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting demanding a tuition freeze.

ASUO members and other students protested another tuition increase in front of Johnson Hall on Feb. 3 (Taylor Wilder/Emerald).

Two days before the rally on Feb. 3, the UO’s advisory board on tuition proposed a 4.76 percent tuition increase for resident students and 4.46 percent for non-residents in the next school year. That translates to an extra $484 annually for a full-time resident student and $1,441 for a non-resident student taking 15 credits a term.

But student leaders don’t just have a problem with rising tuition. They don’t feel like they’re part of the process.

ASUO President Helena Schlegel and ASUO finance director Shawn Stevenson left a Jan. 28 Tuition and Fee Advisory Board meeting early to attend class. The two student representatives on the board thought they’d be able to keep battling the proposed tuition increase.

But a few days later, administration cancelled all further meetings via email, saying they were under a deadline. Vice President of Student Life Robin Holmes called Schlegel and said the only remaining opportunity for student input would be at a forum 48 hours later.

“I was never informed that last week’s meeting was the last meeting,” Schlegel said. “We were under the assumption that there would be another opportunity to talk about these proposed increases before a forum and final recommendation.”

Schlegel and Stevenson had been pushing for no more than a 3.5 percent increase.

“I think we should get clear on when votes should be taken and how people can feel included,” University Provost Scott Coltrane said after the forum.

But students say the problem is more than a lack of communication, and many leaders think the university isn’t listening to them.

Students rally in front of Johnson Hall on Feb. 3 to protest a tuition hike. (Taylor Wilder/Emerald)

A promise of a better education

The tuition hike is expected to cover 80 percent of the university’s projected $17.5 million increase in budget, according to information gathered by the tuition advisory board.

Nathan Stevens, a UO senior, speaks out about his disenfranchisement with the University of Oregon (Taylor Wilder/Emerald).

UO ran a $10 million deficit last year, according to Vice President of Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt. This year, the budget is balanced in part due to last year’s tuition increase.

“Tuition has to pay for most of what we do,” Coltrane said at the forum. “What we want to do is to contain that and keep it low as possible.”

Ten percent of the increasing tuition will go toward financial aid and scholarships. UO will also invest in advising and course offerings to help students graduate faster.

UO expects to put $7.6 million toward better pay for faculty, service workers and staff. In addition to faculty salaries, UO wants to spend $2.75 million to improve the school’s information technology, including the on-campus Wi-Fi network.

Schlegel said the hike is not worth it.

“We pay more; we go more into debt,” Schlegel said. “Then we are less likely to succeed in the long run because we are in so much debt.”

This hike pits student government against administration

There are five steps to raising tuition at UO, and one includes getting student input through a forum early in the process.

The process begins with recommendations from the tuition advisory board, a 15-member board made up of administration, faculty and four students. Its purpose is to oversee UO’s budget and projected costs increase and to provide a recommendation for University President Michael Schill’s tuition increase proposal.

Most of the members on the board are faculty and staff: There are four students, but two of them don’t regularly attend meetings, Schlegel said.

“I think that it’s a huge gap in equal representation,” Schlegel said.

At the open forum on Feb. 3, dozens of students criticized the university. ASUO officer Natalie Fisher said her options are limited as tuition keeps rising.

“I’m an in-state student … but I still have $20,000 in debt,” Fisher said. “My options are to pay more or to leave.”

Amy Schenk, who serves on the executive level of the ASUO along with Schlegel and Stevenson, pointed out a contradiction in President Schill’s speech almost two weeks ago on making college accessible for everyone and this hike.

“I find it ironic that we are promoting accessibility while increasing tuition at the same time,” Schenk said.

To Schlegel, this is not the first time administration has ignored students’ concerns. When she was a member of the Board of Trustees last year, Schlegel felt “ignored, disregarded and treated inequitably” by the board, she said in her resignation letter on Sept. 25, 2015.

The ASUO decried practices like paying Schill the ninth-highest university president salary in the nation and Oregon Football head coach Mark Helfrich making over $3 million a year. They asked administration to change the tuition increase from 4.7 to 3.5 percent at the forum.

“I hope they do,” Schlegel said. “Even if it’s a small decrease, it shows that they heard us.”

What happens now

Once the president makes his recommendation this week, the university will post the proposed tuition increase along with an online forum for feedback on the UO Provost’s website, according to UO spokesman Tobin Klinger.

Then, the UO Board of Trustees will vote on the proposal at its next meeting on March 3-4. Going forward, ASUO will keep a conversation going with the administration and present strong student support in hopes of overturning the proposal.

Though the ASUO president has the option of submitting a competing tuition proposal to the Board of Trustees, Schlegel is skeptical the board would listen.
“We want students to have a voice, and we want to know what’s going on at the UO,” Schlegel said. “But at the end of the day … they might not listen to us ever.”

Increases to next year’s budget (projected):

  • $7.6 million: Salary increases for faculty and staff.
  • $2.2 million: Medical cost increases.
  • $1.5 million: Increases in cost for debt, rent, insurance, utilities and assessments.
  • $2 million: Investment funds, including tenure track faculty hires and graduate student fellowships.
  • $1.5 million: Other investments in tenure track faculty.
  • $2.75 million: Improving information technology, including on-campus Wi-Fi.

Total: $17.5 million.

To be determined: Potential increases in minimum wage and salary increases for GTFs, whose contract is not yet negotiated.

Though the ASUO president has the option of submitting a competing tuition proposal to the Board of Trustees, Schlegel is skeptical the board would listen.

“We want students to have a voice, and we want to know what’s going on at the UO,” Schlegel said. “But at the end of the day … they might not listen to us ever.”

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