The University of Oregon board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to implement a guaranteed tuition program starting next fall.
The guaranteed tuition model — proposed to trustees by the UO President Michael Schill and the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board, which discussed and drafted the specifics over several months — would lock an undergraduate student’s rates for tuition and fees for five years, starting their first year.
The model will begin fall 2020. Proponents from TFAB have pushed for adopting a guaranteed tuition model, arguing that it would assuage student anxieties about increasing costs and give UO a competitive edge in recruitment.
“The biggest concern is — because I think this is a boon for our students, because it’s basically giving them all an insurance policy against bad economic results,” Schill said. “The main negative of this is the risk that it places. You can’t eliminate risk. Someone’s got to bear it.”
Critics have argued that it would divide the student body.
Associated Students of the University of Oregon President Sabinna Pierre, along with her chief of staff, Indigo Irving, and her state affairs director, Vanessa Robles, presented a petition they started to postpone the board’s discussion of guaranteed tuition in light of social distancing measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Everyone hates tuition going up,” said Pierre, adding that the petition, which they sent out Sunday, March 15, has nearly 5,000 signatures. “What I'm asking for is to hold back on this model, more than anything else.”
A few protesters part of Reclaim UO, an effort to make the board of trustees more representative of the student body, wore white hazmat suits held signs outside the meeting, which limited the number of participants in the room to abide by CDC social distancing recommendations.
The protestors held signs that listed their demands: refunding students for spring tuition, ensuring paid leave for staff, faculty and GEs, freezing tuition rates and not adopting guaranteed tuition.
“High school seniors are not going to be coming to you guys and advocating for lower tuition,” protestor Sarah Pishioneri, a senior studying political science, said during public comment. “I hope that’s not an intentional thing, but it definitely feels as if it's a way to continue to raise tuition without catching the flack from students.”
Alongside adopting a guaranteed tuition model, trustees also approved three resolutions in unanimous votes.
The first authorized funding a $12 million project for a giant television screen and accompanying audio system for Autzen Stadium, which would give attendees “the highest possible fan experience,” according to the meeting’s materials. The project is funded through private gifts.
The board also passed amendments to the UO Department of Intercollegiate Athletics’ multimedia contract with IMG College, a collegiate sports marketing company, that would net the Athletics Department at least $123 million over 10 years.
Trustees also approved a bond refund resolution that would allow the university to refinance up to $145 million of its 2015 and 2016 general revenue bonds if market conditions are favorable and it would save the university money over time.
The UO also issued 2020 revenue bonds to finance the construction of new dorms.
How will guaranteed tuition work?
Current students will have a somewhat different set of rules apply to them. First, they’ll see annual 3% increases for the next four years. TFAB justified the increases by saying that these rates are still lower than average historical increases, which have been around 5%.
In addition to undergraduate tuition, the model also caps differential tuition for specific schools,
such as the Robert D. Clark Honors College as well as the Lundquist College of Business, as well as summer tuition and mandatory fees that most students pay, such as those for the Student Recreation Center and EMU.
Second, for returning students, the program will last for up to four years, not five. Current first-year students will get four years of annual increases capped at 3%, for example, and the same applies to current sophomores, juniors and seniors — though most will graduate before using all four years.
(New incoming students starting this summer will be part of the 2021 tuition cohort, according to meeting materials.)
University vice presidents Dr. Roger Thompson, Jamie Moffitt and Dr. Kevin Marbury explained the details to the board. Thompson presented the benefits of such a model for potential recruitment, while Moffitt explained the potential financial repercussions, and Marbury discussed how TFAB came to its recommendation.
“I also think it’s where the marketplace is headed,” Thompson said with regards to UO’s competitors for recruiting students, adding that the University of Arizona and the University of Colorado, Boulder, both have similar programs.
For new incoming students at UO, they will see a jump of nearly 10% in tuition rates when comparing it to previous years, though their rate will not increase for the next five years.
New in-state students would be paying $254.62 per student credit hour, while new out-of-state students would pay a rate of $820.23. The current student credit hour rate is $232.
In other words, new in-state students would have their tuition capped at $11,457.90 per year. For new out-of-state students, that rate is $36,910.35.
Graduate students won’t be included in the guaranteed tuition model, since graduate programs have differing tuition rates, and some even have guaranteed tuition models.
Quarterly ASUO report
After running 15 minutes late, ASUO executive members, including ASUO President Sabinna Pierre, Chief of Staff Indigo Irving and State Affairs Commissioner Vanessa Robles, gave their quarterly report on what UO student government members have been advocating for.
Pierre also presented a petition that ASUO had started to call for lowering tuition due to the shift to online classes as well as postponing the trustees’ discussion of and vote on adopting a guaranteed tuition model.
“With a switch to online courses, we are losing precious instructional hours, access to critical resources, and are being given an education that is not comparable to the cost of our tuition,” the petition reads. “We, the student body, are therefore requesting that you work to reduce the cost of tuition to accommodate for the changed conditions of education and for the inequities that arise from this situation.”
The trustees also gave an honorary degree to James Ivory, “the university’s highest honor” given to those who have performed extraordinary public service, scholarship or artistry, according to meeting materials. Ivory, a 1951 UO alum, film director, producer and screenwriter, has made more than 40 movies, including “Call Me by Your Name,” A Room with a View” and “The Remains of the Day.”