At the end of a string of public tuition meetings, news of a tuition increase for out-of-state undergraduate students at the University of Oregon has distressed many in the campus community. With the decision for resident tuition expected to come in May, ASUO officials are in the thick of a financial fray, urging state lawmakers to make college an affordable experience.
ASUO President Maria Alejandra Gallegos-Chacón and other ASUO officials recently returned from the annual Oregon Student Association Lobby Day on Feb. 18, where a coalition of student delegations from public universities and community colleges across the state met with lawmakers at the Oregon State Capitol to lobby for reasonable tuition.
“UO brought a delegation of 40 people,” said Imani Dorsey, ASUO internal vice president. “We got a temperature check, we can get information about where [the legislators] are at, who's a champion of our issues — who's possibly a barrier.”
Gallegos-Chacón said ASUO’s requests included $1 billion in public university support, $787 million for community colleges and $252 million for the Oregon Opportunity Grant. She said that the lobbying effort by UO wasn't solely focused on UO but on equitable conditions for everyone else.
“We want to make sure community college students are getting their fair share, because those students eventually feed into the UO,” Gallegos-Chacón said.
Gallegos-Chacón described the process this year as frustrating, as legislators were indecisive about throwing support behind increased college funding.
“A lot of them seemed willing to support students, but they aren't willing to advocate publicly for that revenue reform that includes higher education,” she said.
She said that part of this struggle is that Salem's current focus is largely on K-12 education.
“I think it can be done in conjunction. I don't see how you could say you care about students, then set them up to go through K-12, and be like, 'Sorry, you can't afford to go to college, so you're not going to go,'” Gallegos-Chacón said.
OSA Lobby Day is not the only opportunity the student lobbyists will have this year. The UO Lobby Day on May 8 will provide a chance for students, faculty and alumni to speak with legislators. Dorsey said that until then, the major focus is on getting students organized to further the efforts.
“Once they learn how dire it is, they realize how important it is to show up. Nobody has students’ backs like themselves, and that's why we mobilize a base,” she said.
“When students go and put their labor into sharing their stories,” said ASUO Chief of Staff Tan Perkins, “you hope that impact stays, and that it sticks with legislators when they go home. I think that's really the purpose, and that's why we encourage students to lobby.”
ASUO will continue to work with university administration to obtain affordable tuition.
“It's interesting because, for the first time, they're advocating for tuition [increase] to stay under five percent,” said Gallegos-Chacón.
However, ASUO executives feel Johnson Hall's approach has been lacking in some regards, as it does not focus as much on affordability for students.
“While Johnson Hall has been on our side so far,” said Dorsey, “the conversations we've had about lobbying and TFAB have been limiting. We need to reorient things at the UO to be more student-centered, and focus on the affordability, quality and accessibility aspects.”
Gallegos-Chacón said that despite the struggles, students are not discouraged in the efforts to continue engaging with lawmakers.
“I think we just need to hold their feet to the fire to have them understand we need them to invest in students,” she said. “We're their constituents, we're their taxpayers, so they have to care.”