A bill introduced to the Oregon House of Representatives last Thursday would require each of Oregon’s public universities and community colleges to keep its resident tuition the same for the next two academic years.
The bill, H.B. 3381, would only freeze tuition for in-state students, so the 2.97 percent nonresident tuition increase approved by University of Oregon leaders earlier this month would not be affected.
Representatives Diego Hernandez (D-Portland) and Rob Nosse (D-Portland) are the chief sponsors of the legislation, while Senators Shemia Fagan (D-Portland) and Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) serve as co-sponsors. Additionally, the proposed legislation is backed by student advocacy group the Oregon Student Association.
ASUO Internal Vice President and OSA board member Imani Dorsey said in a statement that it was the fault of state legislators for placing onerous expenses on students. “The constant divestment from higher education has essentially privatized it,” Dorsey said. “The bulk of funding is now from students’ pockets rather than the state.”
Oz Smith, student body president at Central Oregon Community College, expressed a similar sentiment: “The state has been slashing college budgets every session, and that overwhelmingly shifts the burden of accessibility onto individual students. If we want to continue to create and sustain opportunities for Oregon students, we need to give students a chance to succeed, not a debt sentence.”
Functionally, the bill means state officials would need to find a way to cover the increasing costs of university staff salaries and retirement contributions, among other things. At current university estimates, the unfunded total for UO after accounting for finalized nonresident tuition rates would be about $27 million.
Nosse suggested that those funds would come either from cutting other state programs or raising state taxes. Nosse said his inclination is to raise taxes, particularly on corporate activity; however, neither he nor Dorsey expressed great confidence that the Legislature will approve the necessary taxes for the bill.
“We wouldn’t do a freeze if we can’t find the money,” Nosse said of the taxes the Legislature will consider in the coming months. “Call me back in the spring.”