Tuition freeze

As legislators examine how to divvy up an extra $200 million in projected state revenue, a proposal by Senate Democrats may give higher education a big piece of the pie.

A proposal for a tuition freeze at all state universities and colleges for the 2005-07 biennium was included in a proposed spending package released by Senate President Peter Courtney and other Democrat leaders Monday.

A tuition freeze would finally put a halt to what has been several years of dramatic tuition increases for most state college students in Oregon. Average tuition has increased by 9.3 percent for in-state full-time undergraduate students over the past five years, from $3,525 in 2000 to $4,761 in 2004. The most dramatic increases have been during the past two years, due to the elimination of a tuition plateau. Gov. Ted Kulongoski also predicted further increases of 10-12 percent over the next two years in his projected state budget earlier this year.

However, Democrats and Republicans are quarrelling about the spending package in which the tuition freeze in included. Though projected state revenue has increased by around $200 million, the proposed spending increases top $500 million, with much of the money earmarked for K-12 education. Republican leaders, including House Speaker Karen Minnis, argue that there is simply no way to pay for the additional expenses.

The Oregon Student Association, which has long lobbied Salem for a tuition freeze, considers the idea’s inclusion in the spending package a great success. The student lobbyist group has often been told that such a plan would take years to even be realistically discussed in the legislature.

John Wykoff, executive director of the Oregon Student Association, said that he was glad to see a tuition freeze finally on the table.

"This highlights an issue that we have been fighting for really hard," he said.