About 100 students filled the EMU’s Redwood Auditorium on Tuesday to share their concerns with University of Oregon leaders about next year’s tuition. After a presentation about the outlook of the university’s finances, students broke into groups to speak to members of the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board.
At one table, Jim Brooks, the director of student financial aid and scholarships and a TFAB member, discussed what had just been presented with a few students. Questions went both ways between Brooks and the students, and a common theme was support from the state.
“Why do students have to cover promises the state made?” One student asked, referring to contributions that the state requires the university to make to former employees through the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS.
“It’s like we’re being punished,” said another about the same costs.
Those retirement costs, UO Chief Financial Officer Jamie Moffitt told students at the forum, are a major part of the challenge the university is facing financially next year.
“I’ve been doing this process for seven years now, and I’ve never seen a number that large,” Moffitt told attendees about the $32.4 million that the university projects it will need next year.
Moffitt called the outlook “depressing” at least five separate times throughout the evening.
First-year student Alison Hicks went to the forum to learn about the costs of the university and came away surprised about how much revenue comes from out-of-state students.
Hicks chose UO because it has the interior architecture program that interests her, but she would’ve stayed in California, her home state, otherwise. She said a major increase in tuition, or the loss of her program due to cost-cutting, could influence her future at UO.
“A tuition increase definitely means more money going to education than other necessities of my households,” Hicks said. “It’s hard.”
The group ended the event by informing attendees about upcoming lobbying opportunities. The university will be sending students to Salem to speak with legislators about increasing state funding on Feb. 18 and May 8.
“Students play a huge role in this,” Moffitt said. “The more voices that are heard in Salem, maybe it will change this picture.”
ASUO President Maria Gallegos-Chacón was less reserved than Moffitt about the importance of students lobbying legislators.
“If we don’t get funding,” Gallegos told attendees, “we’re initially fucked.”
Ryan Nguyen contributed reporting to this story.