Tuition to rise 3 percent

The legislature confirmed a 3 percent tuition hike over 2004-2005 rates for resident undergraduates at Oregon universities and provided full funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant.

“While it’s not the best situation, it is a success for students,” said Arlie Atkins, communications director for Oregon Student Association, the lobbying group that pushed legislators to expand funding for the grant and freeze tuition. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but this is the lowest tuition increase in several years.”

By striking a bargain on the most divisive part of the state budget Monday night, the legislature unveiled other funding decisions, including parts of the higher education budget.

Though the status of the less politically volatile budget had been fairly solid, legislators had not finalized them so they could be renegotiated for bargaining purposes.

If approved by legislators, the K-12 funding deal is an end to weeks of closed-door negotiations between party leaders. Rank and file legislators were dismissed for multiple three-day breaks this month while Speaker of the House Karen Minnis, Senate President Peter Courtney and Governor Ted Kulongoski hammered out a compromise of $5.24 billion.

Though the 3 percent increase is not exactly good news for students, it is down from a 6.7 percent increase approved by the Board of Higher Education several weeks ago. At the time, the Board called its benchmark a “worst case scenario” but needed to give campuses a legal if not final percentage increase quote for registering students.

In decisions made by the Board, but unaffected by the legislature’s recent pact, all students at PSU will see increases. For non-resident undergrads at PSU with a 15-credit load, tuition will rise 1 percent to $5,325. Resident graduate students taking 12 credits will pay $2,772 per term, a 3 percent increase. Non-residents will pay 1 percent more, with $4,848 per term.

When earlier deals funded a tuition freeze, students from around the state lobbied for full funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, a need-based grant that, according to the Oregon Student Association, was only awarded to 70 percent of the qualified applicants.

The $77 million allotted to fully fund eligible Opportunity Grant applicants is $14 million less than Kulongoski’s initial proposal. Currently, dependent students whose family income is less than 55 percent of median family income; the governor’s plan would have expanded eligibility to students under 75 percent of median family income.

Historically, tuition freezes are more popular with middle-income constituents than the Oregon Opportunity Grant, which few are eligible to receive.

As part of the deal, there will be no money dedicated to enrollment growth, and a House proposal to give $5.1 million to a need-based fee remission increase was abandoned.

The capital construction budget is not yet final.

In a biennium of further budget cuts, Democrats and Republicans alike listed K-12 education funding as a top priority for the 2005 session. Since opening in January, lawmakers have argued over the amount. Before settling on a figure of $5.24 billion, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican House allotted $5.27 billion and $5.22 billion respectively.