The Oregon State Board of Higher Education approved a one-year mitigation plan at a meeting at PSU last Friday to prevent resident undergraduate tuition from exceeding a more than 15 percent increase over Spring 2004 rates.
Development of the plan began in June, after the board approved tuition rates for the 2004-05 school year that would have raised tuition for PSU students taking 15 credit hours by 19 percent, affecting more than 3,000 full-time students at the university.
The high rise in tuition costs for full-time students this year is due mostly to the elimination of the tuition plateau. Last year, students taking between 15 to 18 credits only paid for the first 15 credits, but for the 2004-05 school year students will have to pay the per-credit rate, regardless of the amount of credits they take. As a result, without the mitigation plan, students who take 12 credits would see their tuition increase from $1426 to $1437, or less than one percent, but students taking 15 credits would see an increase from $1426 to $1707, or almost 20 percent.
Under the new plan, money saved from the reorganization of the University system’s Chancellor’s Office will be used to subsidize the portion of students’ tuition that exceeds the 15 percent rise from Spring 2004 rates. For example, tuition for 15 credit hours at PSU would cost $1640 instead of $1707, with the $67 difference covered by the mitigation plan.
John Wykoff, executive director of the Oregon Student Association (OSA), a group that has campaigned hard for both retaining the tuition plateau and lowering tuition rates, said he supports the mitigation plan under the circumstances, but still raised concerns about the impact of such a large tuition increase.
“It’s definitely a good idea, but the question is, is it enough of a good idea?” Wykoff said.
According to Wykoff it will be more apparent once the cost of the plan is determined whether the plan represents a serious commitment to reducing higher education costs or a token gesture to students who may be scared off by rapidly rising tuition.
“Their desire to address ‘sticker shock’ wasn’t token,” Wykoff said. “Let’s hope the dollar amount doesn’t end up being token.”
While the total cost of the plan has not yet been determined, Nancy Heiligman, assistant vice-chancellor for budget operations, roughly estimated it at $1.4 million of the approximately $3 million saved through the reorganization of the Chancellor’s Office. The exact details for implementation of the plan will be determined over the next month, according to Heiligman.
Cathy Dyck, interim vice-president of finance and administration at PSU, said she views the plan as a genuine attempt by the board to provide some relief to students while having to work with a very limited budget. She also expressed approval that the plan will be funded through the Chancellor’s Office reductions.
“The institution (PSU) wouldn’t have been able to do it without some kind of cuts,” she said.
While the mitigation plan will bring some relief to full-time students, this year’s tuition increases are only the most recent in what has been a trend of rapidly rising tuition costs over the last several years. Tuition for students taking 15 credits rose by 10 percent in 2003 and 5.5 percent in 2001. Even under the new mitigation plan, tuition for 15 credits has risen by almost 40 percent from the 2000-01 academic year rates.
Tuition rates are also expected to continue to rise in the coming years. Currently the $4.25 billion 2005-07 budget for the higher education system, which was approved by the board and submitted to the governor Friday, includes expected average tuition increases of 5 percent per year. However, a policy package has also been submitted to the governor that would reduce the tuition increases to about 3.8 percent per year, on par with the annual increase in median income in Oregon.
However, these figures are not set in stone. Just how much tuition will be increased will be largely determined by how much funding the state legislature approves for the university system.
“The system is experiencing higher increases than normal,” Heiligman said. “If the state cuts the OUS budget, there could be further tuition increases.”
Wykoff called on the state legislature to better fund higher education to prevent further tuition increases, saying that while 3.8 percent was better than 5 percent, he would prefer no increases.
“What we need is the legislature to make a commitment to affordability by putting some money behind it,” he said.