The University of Oregon Board of Trustees met virtually March 8 and March 9 to discuss COVID-19 impacts and operations, standing reports, university finances, a new infrastructure project, academic initiatives, tuition and fees, student success initiatives and textbook affordability.
COVID-19 impacts and operations
UO President Michael Schill touched on the university’s fall reopening, citing Governor Kate Brown’s and the Oregon Health Authority’s vaccine sequencing list, which includes higher education by no later than May 1. Faculty and staff who are needed for on-campus teaching, student support and research will become eligible for the vaccine beginning May 1. Students, as well as everyone else in the state, will be eligible on July 1.
“Many of our students are simply unable to flourish in a remote environment,” Schill said. “They need to be in a supportive classroom setting. This is especially true for our low income students and our students of color.”
The U.S. Senate passed the American Rescue Package for the fifth time since the onset of the pandemic, Schill announced. UO is projected to receive $43 million from the package, at least half of which will fund direct grants given to students.
“While this relief that we’re getting is welcome, and its importance cannot be overstated, it is critical that everyone understands the scope of our new costs and our lost revenue,” Schill said.
According to UO’s most recent financial report, the university has estimated that it will sustain over $173 million in lost revenue and new costs between March 2020 and the end of spring 2021. This does not include student need, which Schill said is “significant even without a pandemic.”
Associate Vice President and Chief Resilience Officer Andre Le Duc highlighted two objectives in the updated COVID-19 plan which will go into effect March 15.
The first is the implementation of the university’s comprehensive contact tracing program, which focuses on “Test, trace, treat.” Le Duc said the university’s ability to follow that mantra has been a big part of containing the spread of the virus.
The other objective is the development of a comprehensive vaccination operations plan in partnership with Lane County Public Health and the Lane County Vaccination Collaborative, of which the university is a member.
“We have been moving pretty fast for our county, as we have over 64,000 individuals that have currently been vaccinated,” Le Duc said. “Our goal is to continue the speed of that.”
He said travel over spring break is strongly discouraged to avoid an outbreak upon return.
“We are hoping that people heed the guidance to take a mental break and refresh themselves, but really limit the travel,” Le Duc said.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt reported enrollment for undergraduate student credit hours was down 5.9% from last winter term to this term, compared to a fall 2019 to fall 2020 enrollment drop of 4.8%. She said Zoom fatigue and students taking fewer classes most likely factored into the enrollment drop.
“Up until recently, our classes have been around 4,000 students,” Moffitt said. “The year before COVID we were about at 4,600 first-year students, and we were on track to be around 4,700, and then COVID hit and we dropped down to 3,950.”
While the reduction in the number of first-year students will affect the Education & General Expenses fund for the next four to five years, Roger Thompson, vice president for Student Services and Enrollment Management, said the university topped 33,000 applications this year, a new record by several thousand students.
“Students are just simply fatigued from trying to learn in this environment,” Thompson said. “I do think we’ll see some of those other students return when the modality of teaching changes.”
COVID-19-related cost savings are expected to mitigate most of the revenue losses in the E&G fund for FY21. The projected E&G fund deficit dropped from $3.4 million to $2.3 million due to these savings and additional projected personnel.
Utility Infrastructure Project
The Board of Trustees must approve all capital projects exceeding $5 million, so Campus Planning and Facilities Management sought board approval for the installation of a thermal energy storage tank, an update to the Chilled Water Plant controls and the addition of two cooling towers.
The Board approved the $8.5 million project, which will be more efficient, cost-effective and easily maintainable, said University Architect Michael Harwood.
Provost Patrick Phillips provided an update on the five new academic initiatives: Data Science, Environment, Entrepreneurship and Economic Transformation, Center for Racial Disparities and Resilience and Sports and Wellness.
“I think we are called more and more to recognize our role in society, and our students are asking us to make sure that we have these external impacts,” Phillips said. “All these initiatives are aligned not only from student interest to research strengths within the institution, but also the opportunity to move those impacts out into the world.”
FY22 Tuition and Fees
Schill agreed with the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board’s recommendation of a 3% tuition increase for new non-resident students per credit hour in FY22, and a 4.5% tuition increase for new resident students per credit hour. As part of the Guaranteed Tuition Model, these rates will be locked in for five years so students will no longer have to worry about an annual tuition increase.
For students enrolled at UO prior to this program, there will continue to be a 3% tuition increase each year. Graduate tuition increases vary from 0 to 5% depending on the college.
As for mandatory fees, there will be a 3% increase for graduate students and continuing undergraduate students, and a 3.76% increase for the incoming cohort of undergraduate students.
Earlier in the year, ASUO decided students should no longer have to pay for student athletics tickets through the incidental fee, which ASUO controls. This year the I-Fee will be $268.25 per student, per term, and Schill will provide the athletics department with $1.2 million next year in return for its commitment to offer 5,000 discounted sports passes at $100 per pass to students.
“It is unclear what the consequences of shifting to this ‘pay-to-play’ model will be,” Schill wrote in his statement. “I would encourage the ASUO to review their action in a year or two to determine whether its impact on the students they represent has been desirable.”
This story was updated to reflect that for FY22, TFAB recommended a 3% tuition increase for new non-resident students per credit hour and a 4.5% increase for new resident students per credit hour.