The Tuition and Fee Advisory Board usually meets in Johnson Hall, but will hold a tuition forum for students Tuesday in the EMU Redwood Auditorium. (Henry Ward/Daily Emerald)

The University of Oregon Tuition and Fee Advisory Board is hoping that a burrito bar will encourage students to attend a forum on Tuesday. The event, which will take place at 6 p.m. in the EMU’s Redwood Room on Jan. 15, will be focused on student input about tuition.

After a presentation about the university’s financial challenges for the next year, TFAB members will speak to students in small groups about their personal experiences and opinions about tuition, according to discussions at last Friday’s TFAB meeting. TFAB members expressed their hopes that other university administrators, including trustees, senior staff and state officials will also be present to hear from students.

Imani Dorsey, the ASUO internal vice president, has been working with TFAB and ASUO leaders to plan Tuesday’s forum. Students’ personal stories, she said, are critical to helping university leaders understand the challenges students face with tuition.

“When you’re able to get a lot of students in one place, with very diverse kinds of stories, but also really powerful stories, I think those are most impactful to the decision-makers and really expose how real the problem is on our campus,” Dorsey said. “It gets lost how much our students are suffering. It makes this place feel real again.”

The tuition process and university funding are confusing topics, said Dorsey, so she encourages students to come to the forum with any and all questions they have about the process, including things like financial aid, mandatory fees, student resources or course fees.

One of those confusing topics is the university’s "cost drivers" for the next year: the total increase in the university’s “education and general” costs like employee salaries and retirement benefits.

Students commonly think that tuition covers expenses like athletics or building new buildings on campus, Dorsey said, but those are actually funded in other ways, like private donations and state bonds.

At a TFAB meeting last week, UO Chief Financial Officer Jamie Moffitt showed members a summary of the university’s cost drivers for next year. Before she did, she warned the group that it was “probably larger than any number I've put up in front of a TFAB ever before.”

That number, $32.4 million, represents the “gap to fill” in the university’s budget for next year, and includes projections of increased costs and reduced state funding.

The big question for university leaders is how to fill that gap. Since at least 2006, according to TFAB data, at least part of the solution has been to raise the price of tuition.

At this point, it’s nearly impossible to predict how much of an increase might fill the gap. The university has to wait and see which version of the state budget the legislature will pass, an answer that might not come until after classes start in the fall, Moffitt said.

At last week’s TFAB meeting, Moffitt showed members some possible scenarios with a tuition increase calculator. The numbers were, as she described them, “depressing.”

In one sample scenario, which assumed more students will enroll at UO next year and the state funds the university at the current level, a tuition increase of $1,800 per year for full-time residents and $990 for full-time non-residents wouldn’t cover all of the increasing costs.

Raising tuition, Dorsey said, isn’t how the university should respond.

“I really want [tuition decision-makers] to think about what a tuition increase symbolizes. It comes with a lot of connotations about who’s privileged here and who the university wants here.”

Instead, Dorsey hopes the TFAB will find “creative solutions” to the problem. One of her ideas is to encourage donors to the university to donate funds to tuition affordability instead of athletics or “to get their name put on a building.”

Both university and student leaders can agree on at least one thing: if the university is going to avoid a major tuition increase this year, it needs increased state funding.

“This is a rare occasion that we're actually on the same page about it,” ASUO President Maria Gallegos-Chacon told TFAB members at last week’s meeting in response to the state’s proposed budget.

The plan is to take students, faculty and administrators to the state capitol in the spring to speak with legislators about the need for state support and the challenges of rising tuition.

“Students and faculty,” Moffitt told TFAB members, “those are the two most persuasive voices in Salem.”

The student tuition forum will take place Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. in the EMU Redwood room. The catered event will last between 60 and 90 minutes.

Any students and staff are invited to the OSA Lobby Day at the capitol on Mar. 8. Transportation, food and class excuse letters will be provided.

Students who can’t attend Tuesday’s forum or are interested in lobbying at the capitol should contact the ASUO tuition advocate at [email protected] or ASUO Internal Vice President Imani Dorsey at [email protected].

Zack Demars is a reporter for the Daily Emerald covering administration and tuition. He's into politics, people and black coffee. You should send him tips, pictures of your dog or your favorite vegetarian recipes at [email protected]

Please consider donating to the Emerald. We are an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting and educating this generation's best journalists. Your donation helps pay equipment costs, travel, payroll, and more!