The following is the opinion of the Emerald’s editorial board and not Emerald Media Group as a whole. The Emerald Editorial Board exists to provide the newsroom a voice on prominent campus issues. It operates separately from the objective work of our reporters, giving our organization a platform to create and continue a dialogue on campus.
The board’s members include Sararosa Davies, senior arts reporter; Meerah Powell, digital managing editor; Will Campbell, associate news editor; Kylee O’Connor, sports reporter; Mark Kellman, engagement editor; Cooper Green, editor in chief; Patience Greene, opinion columnist; Carl Segerstrom, opinion columnist; Billy Manggala, opinion columnist.
Tuition increased by 10.6 percent for in-state students and 3 percent for out-of-state students, resulting in a $945 per-year increase for all undergraduates.
With financial burdens such as low state funding for the UO, and the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) — a pension program for retired faculty, which will cost $7.1 million next year — tuition increases seem inevitable to combat growing debt.
While there are challenges in balancing the university budget, other solutions need to be explored before UO places more financial burdens on students.
- Encourage donors to support investments in faculty and students: The choice of where to invest lies in the hands of the donor, but the university community can do more to influence its beneficiaries. Last October, Phil and Penny Knight donated $500 million towards building a 70,000 square foot science campus. While the allure of a shiny building with your name on it can be hard to pass up, if philanthropists were to invest a fraction of the funds directly into UO’s budget, the university could be out of debt tomorrow. The money could go just as far if it was targeted toward providing for students — promoting lower tuition, financing scholarships or, as the Knights have done before, endowing chairs and professorships. For example, Steve and Connie Ballmer donated $25 million in 2014 toward Pathway Oregon, providing more students with free tuition.
- Make the highest paid administrators take a pay cut: As student tuition is increasing, so are administration salaries. UO president Michael Schill makes $798,400 annually, according to the Register-Guard. This is roughly 50 percent more than the former UO president. To attract high-quality administration, universities need to offer competitive salaries. However, if the UO administration wants students to trust that education is the first priority, administrators should chip in their fair share.
- Take the burden off in-state students: Oregonians pay less in tuition than out-of-state students because Oregon residents pay state taxes that go toward public universities. Many students choose to go to college in their home state for financial reasons. The increase for Oregonian students could be enough for those paying out of pocket to leave UO.
- Focus university spending on students and faculty members, rather than construction: A new dorm. A new science campus. Better sports facilities and renovated classrooms. It’s almost impossible to walk on campus without seeing a crane or construction tape. Despite the state budget’s lack of public university funding, $100 million in state bonds were dedicated to Knight science campus over the next six years, according to Around The O. $83.7 million will be spent on construction and capital improvement this year, according to UO’s latest budget report. Updated facilities are undeniably pleasant in curating better study and living environments for students, and encouraging inquiring students to commit to UO, but what’s the point if tuition itself is unaffordable?
The tuition hike next year is inevitable, but students can still take action to sway the trend. Don’t underestimate your voice. Call your state representatives now to encourage them to push for more state funding for UO. Contact UO administration and do the same.
Another financial option, especially for students who can’t afford tuition hikes, is community college. Lane Community College costs roughly $4,155 per year for full-time in-state students and $12,644 per year for full-time non-resident students — that’s less than half of UO tuition, whether you’re in-state or out. Even dual enrollment — splitting your class load between UO and Lane — provides a more affordable outlook for students.
It’s clear UO has to assess its priorities: whether to continue spending on new buildings and administrators’ salaries, or to talk to donors, and the state, to encourage that money be spent on the entire reason for the university’s existence: its students.
The UO Board of Trustees made a difficult decision for the sake of the bottom line, but did they do it the right way? A university which promotes the “economic wellbeing” of students in its mission statement has taken one more step in the other direction by shifting the burden to the backs of those it seeks to educate.