Tuition hike ok’d

The Oregon state Board of Higher Education approved tuition increases for the next two years and made the tuition surcharge begun winter term at Portland State University permanent in a meeting Friday. Board members also discussed a draft proposal that might limit enrollment.

If the new rates are approved by Oregon legislators, full-time resident undergraduate tuition at PSU would increase 21.4 percent from the start of the 2002-03 school year to the end of 2004-05.

“They’ve got us in a bind, but I’m going have to pay what they’re asking,” said Monte Leona, a junior geography major at PSU. “I’m too far in to back out now.”

Leona said that he might consider going elsewhere in Oregon if other campuses rates weren’t also rising.

The vote came a day after state legislators released a preliminary two-year budget for 2003-05 that has been reduced more than $400 million since December as predictions of state tax revenue have dropped. The budget proposes a 6 percent cut for most higher education spending, although this will not be finalized until May or later.

In-state PSU students were spared the worst of the increases. After the tuition surcharge, costs will remain steady until 2004-05, when they will increase 8 percent. Over the same period, in-state graduate students will see a 14 percent hike.

That is far from the worst-case scenario. That distinction goes to out-of-state graduate students at Eastern Oregon University, who will see tuition grow a whopping 43 percent, from 2002-03 to 2004-05, not counting the effects of the tuition surcharge.

Oregon has weathered difficult recessions before, said Tom Imeson, a member of the Oregon state Board of Education’s committee on finance and budget, but the drop in state support is much steeper now than it was in the early ’90s.

“We’re right at the cliff,” Imeson said.

“In ’90-’91, enrollment dropped drastically – it took 10 years for enrollment to come back,” said Melissa Unger, legislative director for the Oregon Students Association. Unger said that education spending could help Oregon out of a recession, and warned that the state couldn’t afford another “lost generation.”

Erin Watari, a state Board of Education member and a PSU student, echoed Unger’s statements.

“We have the obligation to keep the door open to everyone who’s qualified,” she said.

The question of who is qualified may be a difficult one. Recently, PSU increased the minimum GPA, which guarantees admission, to 3.0, although admissions officials said the move did not reflect a desire to limit enrollment. Students with lower GPA’s may still be admitted, they said.

Oregon University System officials have promised not to use absolute enrollment caps, but increasing overall requirements for admission may play a part.

Watari favors a balanced approach.

“Raising the required GPA is not an acceptable enrollment cap,” she said.

Still, not everyone is worried about increased tuition.

“I’m not upset about it,” said Garrett Price, a graphic design sophomore at PSU. “I feel like I get a pretty good deal compared to other schools.”