Board may lower tuition increase based on state funding

The Oregon Legislature recently approved $700 million in funding to be distributed to the seven public universities for the 2015–17 biennium. This is about $30 million more than the expected budget framework drafted by Oregon’s governing co-chairs last fall.

According to a July 7 press release from Portland State’s Office of University Communications, PSU President Wim Wiewel said he intends to use the funds to lessen a planned 4.2 percent increase in tuition and fees currently set to take effect in fall 2015.

“I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing the need to invest in the success of our students,” Wiewel said in the press release. He said intentional collaboration between the university presidents resulted in the increased funding.

Former Associated Students of PSU President Eric Noll said he was pleased to see the cooperation between university administrators, and he expects Wiewel to follow through on his pledge to reduce the tuition increase.

“I do have a lot faith that he’ll be true to his word,” Noll said. He and former ASPSU Vice President Rayleen McMillan worked closely with Wiewel during the 2014–15 academic year to examine state funding and the university’s budget.

At the end of March, the PSU Board of Trustees approved a 4.2 percent tuition increase, citing that final tuition increase rates would depend on the Legislature’s funding allocation.

Now that legislators have approved $700 million in funding, PSU awaits a decision from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission that will determine PSU’s share of that money. Trustees and administrators will then revisit tuition and fees and reset rates accordingly.

“I think personally I would like to see tuition somewhere around a 2 to 2.5 percent [increase],” Noll said. “I think that’s reasonable to match the revenue needs of the institution.” He noted that this smaller increase—as opposed to the anticipated 4.2 percent—falls below the Higher Education Price and Consumer Price Indexes.

Noll said he expects an initial recommendation would come first from the Finance & Administration Subcommittee of the BOT.

“The subcommittee would review the specifics and make a recommendation to the full [BOT] for its approval,” he added.

This year, HECC will begin to phase in an outcome-based funding model for fund distribution. The model measures quantifiable outcomes at universities—students with Pell Grant eligibility, underrepresented minority status, veteran status and rural residency—and assigns funds depending on the distribution of these qualifiers. After base funding for shared services—and special programs are budgeted, the model will split remaining funds 60/40 between outcomes and credit hours.

“The determining factors on that have been pretty hotly debated for a couple decades now,” Noll said. “Now they’re switching the formula—which will phase in over a few years. So it’s still a question mark on how much that formula is going to put out for [PSU] and the other six universities in the coming years.”

In addition to the $700 million in funding, legislators approved $60 million in state bonds for PSU to renovate Neuberger Hall, which houses classrooms, labs, faculty offices and student services. The UComm press release said Neuberger is a safety hazard in its current condition.

According to the press release, state funds for Oregon public universities have been cut 38 percent since 2007—adjusted for inflation—while overall enrollment has increased by 23 percent. This places Oregon in the lowest three states for public university funding.

Though the approved funding is $30 million over the co-chairs’ proposal, it is still $55 million below the university presidents’ original ask of $755 million. The press release said the presidents will advocate for the additional $55 million in the 2016 legislative session in an attempt to bring funding back to 2007 levels.

“After the recession, there were five states to receive double digit cuts in statewide funding, and Oregon was one of them,” Noll said. “We got hit really hard. And we’re still digging out of the hole… It’s been rough. It’s been really rough.”

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