A fee no longer divided

Portland State’s tuition and fee payment structure could soon change, after members of an Oregon University System (OUS) committee decided that certain student fees should be rolled into tuition rather than being charged separately.

Portland State’s tuition and fee payment structure could soon change, after members of an Oregon University System (OUS) committee decided that certain student fees should be rolled into tuition rather than being charged separately.

Over the past six months, an ad-hoc committee of the Oregon University System (OUS) has been examining ways to streamline tuition and give students a better understanding of education costs.

The committee, comprised of students and administrators from the seven public OUS universities including PSU, said a streamlining process would let students know what they are really paying for in their education.

Committee members will recommend that OUS schools enact one of two changes after eliminating these fees–either increasing tuition across the board to compensate for the fee loss, or charging students differing tuition based on what department they are in.

Ryan Klute, legislative affairs director for the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU), said there is nothing keeping schools from raising fees as it sees fit. Recommendations, if approved, will hinder that practice, he said, and OUS schools may not raise tuition without OUS approval.

Since the schools can’t raise certain fees arbitrarily this will help keep the cost of education down, he said.

Jay Kenton, vice chancellor for finance and administration for OUS, said the overall goal is to “make sure students go into programs with their eyes open to what it’s actually going to cost.”

Proposed tuition and fee changes

There are two recommendations proposed by the committee which would allow each OUS university to choose which of the two options is right for them.

Both recommendations involve elimination of non-mandatory resource fees, which can cost PSU students hundreds of dollars a term. Fees that would be eliminated include those affecting all students, such as universal resource fees. Fees such as these include the technology fee and programmatic resource fees.

Kenton said the current fee structure can be confusing to students.

The committee’s recommendations would also increase tuition to compensate for the income lost from the lack of resource fees.

Programmatic resource fees vary by department, providing funds for equipment necessary for the functionality of departments as well as other department specific services.

These fees can cost students anywhere from $5 per credit for fine and performing arts courses to $35 per credit for engineering courses. Mandatory fees that would not be affected include the incidental fee and the health fee.

If the committee’s recommendations are approved, the first option available to the universities would be to eliminate resource fees and increase every student’s tuition equally to compensate for the loss of income generated by resource fees.

The universities would also have the option of varying tuition costs based on how much it costs to run each department. Kenton said this is known as a differential tuition structure, which many universities around the country are using.

Differential tuition would be highest in departments that charge more programmatic fees, such as the engineering school and business school. If an average engineering student currently pays $1,000 per year in programmatic fees, their tuition would increase by about $1,000 if differential tuition was enacted.

However, students in departments such as Speech and Hearing Sciences would not see an increase in tuition because they do not pay programmatic fees.

Both options are income neutral, meaning universities will not profit or lose income.

The changes would only affect undergraduate students at the moment, said Kenton, and a study is being conducted investigating how to make changes to the graduate tuition structure.

Benefit to students

Emily McLain, student body president at University of Oregon, said it is exciting that student voice is now being heard by OUS. McLain, who is also a member of the OUS committee, said students have fought hard for greater transparency when it comes to fees and tuition, and Kenton has been a great advocate for students.

“Students have been talking about this issue for literally years and years,” McLain said. “We are really excited that this issue has received the attention that it deserves.”

If resource fees, which can cost students over $1,000 a year, are rolled into tuition costs, students might be able to receive more financial aid, she said.

“Students have a problem with resource fees because they aren’t evaluated in our student financial aid,” McLain said. “If we are able to get these fees into tuition then our financial award letters will reflect that.”


Not everyone in the university system agrees with these proposals.

Some school officials are concerned that they will not be able to charge what they say they need to charge to fund their institution adequately, Kenton said.

The Vanguard was unable to reach an administrator who disagrees with the recommendations.

There could also be a concern from students if tuition increases, although Klute said he wants to emphasize that students would be paying the same as before, only in one large sum instead of subdivided amounts.

Concerns over whether or not students would be able to afford certain majors if differential tuition is enacted are also addressed in the committee’s recommendations.

Any university that decides to use a differential tuition structure would have 10 percent of those costs set aside for fee remissions and students in need, according to the recommendations.

“We don’t want to price students who don’t have a lot of money out of certain majors,” Klute said.

Although there are concerns by some, these changes will help students and their families understand what they are really paying for higher education, Kenton said.

“It’s not perfect by any means,” he said. “Most of what we are doing is just trying to be much more transparent about pricing our product.”

If OUS agrees to these recommendations after they are presented to the board on Nov. 2, the changes would go into effect next fall.

The committee was formed in response to a study done by the Oregon Student Association on differential tuition, as well as a bill filed by Oregon Sen. Vicki Walker that addressed the high cost of programmatic resource fees. According to OUS, Walker pulled the bill earlier this year to allow OUS time to find a solution to the issue.