Now that the tuition increase for fall term has been finalized, most stakeholders seem to agree that things could have turned out worse. Higher education funding in difficult economic times is a delicate balance between continuing to provide a quality education and pricing students out of college, the former and current ASUO presidents said.

Full-time, in-state undergraduates at the University will pay $7,428 this fall, fully 15.4 percent higher than last fall, the State Board of Higher Education decided Friday.

Though tuition will be $993 higher than fall 2008, the board and University administration are calling it a 7.9-percent increase by counting the $150 tuition surcharge from spring term as part of the 2008-09 tab.

Who deserves credit for the increase not being higher, however, is still an open debate.

Though Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced Friday that he would veto a legislative budget cut of $11.5 million from higher education, the state’s universities are still a remarkable 12.7 percent short of maintaining essential services – or about $118 million.

But ASUO President Emma Kallaway said the presence of about 50 students from across the state helped the board decide on a smaller increase, too.

Having a wide array of students present at Friday’s meeting ensured the board would take notice before deciding whether to “price every student in the room out of their education,” Kallaway said. “So I do think it made a difference.”

The ASUO Executive brought 10 students, including Kallaway, Vice President Getachew Kassa, Chief of Staff Ella Barrett, Programs Administrator Conrad Hulen and Multicultural Advocate Diego Hernandez. Students took their own cars and did not use any incidental fee dollars, Kallaway said.

A story posted on the Oregonian’s Web site Friday night led with students “going into battle” at the meeting, complete with a pancake breakfast and stickers that read “Keep it low!”

One student was quoted as crediting the governor for keeping it low. “We would like to express our gratitude to the governor,” Associated Students of Portland State University President Jonathan Sanford was quoted as saying in the Statesman-Journal.

As the state board tells it the highest increase will be at PSU, where tuition will raise 10 percent over last fall. The smallest is at Eastern Oregon University, which will rise by 3.5 percent.

Former ASUO President Sam Dotters-Katz said the University’s tuition is still less than the market price for peer institutions. (The Oregonian reported that if tuition rose with the Consumer Price Index, it would be more than $5,000 cheaper to attend the University.) While it should be taken into consideration that some students may not be able to afford tuition hikes, Dotters-Katz said, the University has to consider how many faculty members will be laid off or courses eliminated when there isn’t enough money to meet current needs.

Dotters-Katz said the increase could have been even higher before it hit the tipping point of student outcry.

“From what I’ve seen these numbers are not only reasonable but on the low range of what we heard might be possible (for an increase). And that tells me the administration here tried to set a policy that was very reasonable, and I commend them for that,” he said.

Kallaway was less enthusiastic, conceding that there was a silver lining in a lower-than-possible tuition hike, but said she will lobby for more Oregon Opportunity Grant money in the special legislative session in January and February of next year. Thirty percent of the tuition increase will be put toward financial aid, as well.

If the legislature gives more grant money during its special session, it will probably be thanks to the legislators. And the governor. And the administrators. And the students with the pancakes.

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