State commission approves tuition increase

The Oregon State Capitol building in Salem. (Creative Commons)

Five of the Oregon Student Association’s bills have made it out of the Oregon House of Representatives Education Committee, OSA shared on March 31. The proposed legislation focuses on textbook cost and mandatory fee transparency, underrepresented student voices, basic needs coordinators and student incidental fee autonomy.

“All of the bills this year are going to go into effect pretty much immediately and are going to have tangible impacts,” ASUO State Secretary Maya Ward said. “So I think people are excited about that.”

House bills 2542, 2919 and 3012 center different aspects of student fees. 

HB 2919 focuses on textbook transparency and would require all Oregon public universities and community colleges to list textbook and material costs when students register for courses. “There's been many, many times where I've had to buy books,” OSA policy coordinator intern Kati Rodriguez Perez said, “and then I didn't need it afterwards.”

OSA Legislative Director Emily Wanous previously told the Emerald that this bill would allow students to budget for classes before they start and encourage professors to use low or no-cost materials. The bill is currently awaiting its final reading in the House. 

Transparency is also key in HB 2542, which calls for Oregon community colleges and public universities to clearly display all mandatory fees prior to student enrollment payments in a given term. 

Although the University of Oregon Registrar publishes a breakdown of mandatory fees online, Rodriguez Perez said the bill adds an extra level of transparency. “This bill would really hold institutions accountable and make sure that they report what's being charged and what's in that fee in general,” they said.

The bill also requires that colleges and universities report how those fees are used to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. “If you're charging a student a technology fee, you have to say if any of that money went outside the realm of technology and why,” Wanous said. “If you're paying a building fee, how much of that's going to that service?”

She said that transparency will allow state legislators to make more informed decisions about how to allocate higher education funding and will give students more advocacy power regarding mandatory fees. 

The bill passed in the Oregon House of Representatives on April 10 and is now making its way through the Senate.

HB 3012 amends the language around student incidental fees. Student governing bodies — like ASUO at UO — control this mandatory sum under Oregon law, and the bill works to more clearly outline the roles of different parties. Ward said she sees this as a good thing, especially given the administrative pushback this year when ASUO decided to reallocate the funds that had previously gone toward student athletics tickets. 

The bill passed in the House on April 12 and is now moving to the Senate.

HB 2590 — dubbed the “Student Voice Bill” — calls for the creation of a legislative task force focusing on underrepresented students in public universities and community colleges. Wanous said the bill builds upon the 2019 Student Success Act by expanding some of its provisions to higher education. 

If the bill passes, the Oregon legislature will create a task force that goes to all seven public universities and 17 community colleges and host town halls with historically underrepresented students — specifically those who are BIPOC, LGBTQ, low-income, undocumented, were foster children or are from rural communities. According to a 2018 HECC Educator Equity Report, Black students complete degrees and certificates at Oregon universities at a rate 15% less than that of their White counterparts — something OSA is highlighting in its talking points for the bill.

Wanous said these forums would provide opportunities for students and faculty to give legislators an accurate idea of the systems in place to support students and the areas that need work, without having to go through an administrative middle man. “If we are able to accurately support the marginalized communities within institutions, all students are going to win,” she said.

Rodriguez Perez said her testimony for the Student Voice Bill focuses on sexual violence on college campuses. They said they see this as an opportunity to draw attention to the issue and fund strategies to protect students.

The bill is currently in the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee to figure out how it would factor into the state’s budget. There, it’s joined by HB 2835, OSA’s basic needs bill. 

If passed, HB 2835 will provide a basic needs coordinator to every community college and public university in Oregon. “The idea is that this position would just be having one-on-one meetings with the students, maybe planning some events to help educate students on their opportunities,” Wanous said.

According to OSA’s talking points, 41% of Oregon students reported they were food insecure in 2020. Wanous said she thinks it’s important to have a position specifically delegated to connecting students with resources they’re eligible for. Ward said this position will help students apply for financial assistance like SNAP, housing benefits and unemployment. 

Wanous said the state has already seen the potential upside of basic needs navigators at Oregon State University and wants to expand this to a government-funded program. She said the sole coordinator helped over 400 students access more than $500,000 in federal benefits — specifically SNAP, STEP and housing vouchers — in a single year.

Rodriguez Perez said HB 2835 — along with the other bills OSA is championing — will help create equitable and safe campus spaces for everyone. “It's been a pretty great experience,” she said of her work with OSA and the state legislature, “to be a part of this and to really see how students’ voices are crucial in these kinds of spaces.”