Rally to Restore Higher Education battles tuition increases

Thursday, Feb.12, students are invited to join the Oregon Student Association (OSA) for the Rally to Restore Higher Education. The event will take place on the Capitol Steps in Salem.

The goal of the rally is to push for an allotted 755 million dollars for public universities and 560 million dollars for community colleges in the 2015-17 biennial Senate budget in order to ensure a two-year tuition freeze.

OSA hopes to get 700 students at the rally. “Our capitol steps are very large, and [we] need about 700 people to fill them,” said Daniel McCall, Communications Director at OSA.

Failure on the behalf of Oregon Legislature to provide this money could result in a 10 to 12 percent increase of tuition at Portland State, said OSA Campus Organizer at PSU, JP Cummings.

“I do think it’s an achievable goal,” McCall said. The state Board of Higher Education froze tuition last year for the first time since 2001, according to the Statesman Journal.

“In the formal language of the state legislature, it would probably require initiating something called a tuition buy-down. The state would tell the institutions that the increased funding must go towards buying down tuition,” Cummings said.

A budget note, similar to a memo line on a check, would urge universities to put the money towards a buy-down, Cummings said. While budget notes do not have any legal standing, it is unlikely that a university would violate one.

That increase would mean at least 500 dollars more a year for full-time resident students, Cummings said. The costs go up from there for out-of-state students.
Tyler Gonzales-Aguirre is a first year out-of-state student at PSU. “[The tuition increase] would really affect me financially. I think I would have to stop going to school and get a full-time job to establish residency,” Gonzales-Aguirre said. Like many, Gonzales-Aguirre relies on a part-time job and student loans to fund his education.

“I would argue that over the past 20-25 years, the State Legislature has done a very bad job of representing student interests. Specifically, higher education student interests,” Cummings said.

The 755 million dollar budget for universities was previously approved for the 2007-2009 biennial budget. “Obviously, Oregon has an income tax-based system, where we’re hard hit by recessions,” Cummings said. “So they did decrease funding, but if they can’t make it back to that 755 million, it will mean that it’s pretty much a lost decade for higher education in state funding. They just will have not done a single thing more than what they did in 2007 for state higher education.”

The Rally to Restore Higher Education usually takes place in spring, but rally organizers want to give students a platform before legislature takes any major budgetary actions, according to Cummings.

President of Associated Students of University of Oregon, Beatriz Gutierrez, will be a guest speaker at the rally.

While the keynote speaker is to be announced, The Rally to Restore Higher Education has featured speeches from notable individuals such as Governor John Kitzhaber in the past.

“It’s going to be one of the first times that administration and students are getting together to rally at the same time, and recognizing that it’s not an us against them situation. Everyone’s going to try to go down and get as much interest and respect from the legislature as possible,” Cummings said.

PSU has committed to a goal of bringing 100 students to the Capitol Steps this February. According to Cummings, PSU has not yet reached its goal, but many students have expressed interest.

OSA will be tabling in between Neuberger Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union in the coming weeks. They will provide information on higher education funding and postcards for students to fill out in order to register for the rally.

“We have 20,000 [postcards] out across the state right now. We’re trying to collect all of them and drop them off in the majority leader’s desk,” Cummings said.
Director of State Government Relations, Debbie Koreski, will provide funding for the busses to and from the rally from PSU.

Students registered to attend the rally will meet at the Peter W. Stott Center at 10 a.m., and will likely arrive back on campus by 2:30 p.m.

“It’s going to be really fun. It’s a lot of fun to be surrounded by people passionate about the same cause,” McCall said.

Students can register for the rally here: tinyurl.com/psurally