After two hours of tense public comments and crowd cheers, the University of Oregon board of trustees approved a plan by an 11 to 1 vote on Thursday to increase tuition for resident students next year. The exact increase will be determined by the amount of state funding UO receives.
The sole no-vote on the proposal came from outgoing Student Trustee Will Paustian, who has served on the board for four years and faced a tuition increase vote each of those years.
“These have been by far my least favorite days of college,” Paustian told trustees about his years on the board and his intent to vote against the proposal. “I couldn't in my right mind justify that to my friends and to the students.”
The highest increase the board authorized is 9.68 percent, or about $945 for a student taking 45 credits per year. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest increase residents could see under the plan is 4.45 percent, or about $434 for the same course load. To offset the cost, any increase above 5 percent would include “up to” $350,000 in new financial aid, according to the plan.
About a hundred people, including UO students, representatives from campus labor unions and the Labor Education and Research Center and other UO community members, filled the Ford Alumni Center ballroom with signs protesting the university’s handling of the current budget situation.
“This term I had to choose between paying for books, for classes, my medical bills and medications, paying rent on time and getting groceries,” Charlie Keene, an undergraduate student told trustees during the meeting. “This sharp increase in tuition would price me out.”
Backed by the cheers and applause from the audience, Keene was one of about 35 people who spoke to the board during the meeting’s two-hour public comment session. Every speaker in the meeting opposed some part of the university’s proposed budget, which includes the tuition rates, cuts to some university programs and a proposal for a new contract for Graduate Employees.
The resident tuition increase schedule approved by the board of trustees, which bases the increase for the year on the amount the state legislature allocates to higher education state-wide (University of Oregon/President's proposal to board of trustees).
The board’s approval of the plan is one of the last steps in the process to finalize tuition, following a recommendation from an advisory board and UO President Michael Schill and an increase to nonresident tuition. Following Thursday’s vote, the final steps in the process are the completion of the state budget and, if the increase will exceed 5 percent, approval by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
The plan, which bases final rates on state support, leaves tuition uncertain until the state finalizes its allocation to the Public University Support Fund, which funds all of Oregon’s public universities. That amount should be confirmed by the end of the legislature’s session in June.
After the group of about a hundred protesters in the audience left the meeting, trustees reconvened to formally approve the plan.
“That is substantially lower than we thought we'd come in at the beginning of the year,” Schill told board members in brief comments on the plan.
Trustees were not available for comment during the meeting’s lunch recess.