University of Oregon trustee Kurt Wilcox testified to state representatives on Feb. 25 that the university relies on tuition revenue from out-of-state and international students to operate.
Wilcox is a member of the Board of Trustees — the UO’s primary decision-making body. But on Saturday, he spoke on his own behalf, urging legislators to meet the request of seven Oregon public universities requesting $100 million in state funds.
Wilcox’s comments, along with those of four UO students, came during a 2 p.m. forum during which members of Oregon’s Ways and Means Committee, who manage the state’s budget, heard testimonials at Lane Community College about where to allocate funds and how to increase state revenue. Over 200 Oregonians signed up to testify and filled LCC’s ballroom, but there was not enough time for the committee to hear all of them. Speakers delivered their requests in trios, with two minutes to speak.
Administrators project that the UO will receive 7 percent of its budget from the state, causing the university to rely more heavily on student tuition — which brings in 81 percent of the general fund revenue. Wilcox said that 75 percent of tuition revenue comes from out-of-state students and international students, who at the start of the 2016-2017 school year made up 55 percent of the student body.
In 2002, state funding was 14.4 percent. During the 2002-2003 school year, out-of-state students were 25 percent of the population.
“We are very pleased to have [out-of-state and international students] here, but the only way that the university has managed to survive over the last 15 years with reduced budgets is by expanding enrollment, primarily from out-of-state students,” Wilcox said. “I think that it is very important for us to look at making sure we are investing in higher education for Oregonians. That is our mission, and we need money to be able to do that.”
The trustee mentioned his concerns that UO President Michael Schill is recommending to increase tuition 10.6 percent for Oregon residents, and 3 percent for nonresident undergraduates. However, Wilcox said that even if the $100 million request is accepted, the university — facing $9 million in budget cuts — would still be looking at setting a 5 percent increase for Oregon residents.
Four UO students also testified at the forum. One of them was Amani Butler, a freshman student at the UO and first in her family to attend college. Butler told representatives that her part-time job commitments might make her miss out on being involved on campus.
“I’m afraid that the time spent working a job will take away time I could be using to build social and professional networks or studying,” Butler said, “and I think these activities are more valuable than money.”
Butler also mentioned feeling guilty after finding out that her parents were taking out loans to afford her tuition.
Another first-year student, Daniel Smith, expressed similar feelings of guilt.
“In order to help pay for my first two years, my parents have had to pull from their retirement funds to still provide for themselves and my three siblings at home,” Smith said. “Sometimes I feel that a pursuit of my college education will force my parents to make a decision between providing for my disabled mother and older sister, or my livelihood or ability to enter into the workforce.”
Along with calling for the representatives to fund $100 million dollars for public universities, Smith also demanded they fund $15 million to the Oregon opportunity grant, Oregon’s largest grant for college students.
Many university students saw Measure 97, a failed 2016 general election ballot measure to increase corporate taxes on companies in Oregon with sales of more than $25 million, as an opportunity to funnel state revenue toward higher education.
Smith said that he feels that legislators should continue efforts to reform corporate taxes to gain additional revenue in a state that ranks among the lowest corporate taxes in the country.
“Corporate tax reform can be the solution to fill the budget deficits in higher education,” Smith said. “My hope is that you and other legislators can come together to create necessary revenue sources for students.”
Wilcox made it clear that he was speaking for himself and not the rest of the UO Board of Trustees. The Board will vote on whether to increase tuition 10.6 percent at its next meeting this Thursday, March 2. UO sophomore student Luke Berdahl, who is certain that the board will vote in favor of the 10.6 percent increase, felt that Wilcox’s comments were significant to him.
“The fact that he cared about in-state tuition meant a lot to me and that he would take his time to come to a thing like this,” Berdahl said. “I feel that it’s a big deal that someone in his position, granted that they’ve already made a choice that they are going to vote for a tuition increase, would come here.”