Doubt and frustration were on the minds of some students who attended a tuition forum on Monday night hosted by University of Oregon President Michael Schill. About 20 students attended the forum, which was designed for students to express their comments about a proposed tuition increase.
The forum came at the heels of a recommendation by the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board to increase nonresident undergraduate tuition by 2.97 percent, or $990, for the next academic year.
Students in the forum expressed their views on the situation during a sometimes tense question and answer session with administrators before Schill makes final recommendations to the board of trustees in March.
“This is an important issue we are dealing with,” Schill said in his opening remarks, promising that the evening would provide an opportunity for him to gauge how students viewed the increase. “My job tonight is to really listen to you.”
Jamie Moffitt, the UO’s Chief Financial Officer, explained the magnitude of TFAB's analysis and recommendation, detailing a projected cost increase of $24.1 million for the 2020 fiscal year. Moffitt explained that a significant factor behind the increases was the UO's compliance with the Public Employees Retirement System state pension system.
“If you take nothing else away from tonight,” said Moffitt, “please know that PERS is a gigantic issue for folks in our state.”
Compounding the rising costs, Moffitt also noted that the Governor's Recommended Budget, as currently proposed by the state, would reduce the amount of funding for the UO for the coming year. Moffitt said that in light of the financial challenges, the university is working on expanding the campus landscape in the hopes of increasing revenue, while simultaneously lobbying for increased state support.
“What we’re trying to figure out is, ‘Is there something creative we can do that doesn't always rely on raising tuition higher or making cuts?’”she said.
With the floor open for questions, many students articulated concern about how the tuition increase would affect students.
“It seems like a cyclical cycle of disenfranchising students and leaving them out to dry,” remarked Tan Perkins, ASUO Chief of Staff.
ASUO President Maria Gallegos-Chacón, speaking from her experience as a student, expressed her thoughts that the process has proceeded without respect to students.
“We’re feeding this community. This university is my cost driver. It’s so frustrating to give so much to this university, and not be able to afford to eat on campus,” Gallegos said.
ASUO Internal Vice President Imani Dorsey, also discontent with aspects of TFAB’s guidance, suggested creating a student committee to examine education costs.
In response to the information that enrollment of international students was decreasing, ASUO Senator and international student Brian Sun spoke of his experience doing outreach with the UO International Student Association and what he sees as a lack of effort in integrating that demographic within the campus community.
“If you want international students on campus,” Sun said, “you should be doing something to keep us.”
Following the forum, Schill wrote in a email statement to students that after considering the input, he has chosen to recommend a tuition increase, adding that he will obtain more commentary on the issue online before his meeting with trustees. In the email, Schill cited “no new funding” from the state as the principal problem, but promised to continue fighting.
“We will work tirelessly over the coming months with stakeholders on campus and across the state to demonstrate the value of higher education and make the case in Salem for additional state funding,” Schill wrote.
In the meantime, the next hurdle for TFAB will come in May, when the board will make its recommendation for resident tuition after receiving enrollment and state funding data.
One student asked administrators to remember that when looking at budget numbers, “they aren’t just numbers, they’re human beings.”
Zack Demars contributed to this story.