UO Students Voice Concerns for Potential Guaranteed Tuition Model

Jan 15, 2020

 

University of Oregon students and alumni speak in small groups with members of the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board.

By the end of this school year, the UO could implement a fixed tuition model that would guarantee the same tuition cost for incoming undergraduate classes over a five year period. If adopted, the model would help students know the full expected cost of their education before attending the UO.

UO Student Input

At least 50 students and recent alumni attended the UO’s Tuition and Fee Advisory Board (TFAB) student forum to discuss implementing the proposed tuition model. By charging per credit hour, the plan would allow students to know their higher education costs before attending the U of O. But students are skeptical of the model.

Kyra Solis graduated in December with a double major in public policy and indigenous race and ethnic studies. She said she came tonight because tuition has gone up every year since she’s been enrolled.

“One class alone is $3,352. So every class period, that's $159.61, which is absolutely unattainable and unsustainable. It seems that there's not a commitment to trying to decrease tuition and actually make [the] university accessible and affordable, but just finding creative workarounds to be like, ‘Well look, we're trying.’”

Solis said she’s skeptical of administration’s proposals in general, and specifically referenced some of President Schill’s actions.

“There has never been a time where I've felt—or that they've proven to me—that they are out here fighting for what students need and deserve. And almost every time I hear about them doing something, it's kind of screwing students over, like getting up a [$100,000] raise, or purposely missing meetings with the ASUO president last year.”

UO junior Nick Keough is a double major in political science and planning, public policy, and management, and he is also on the on the Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO) Senate. As he goes into his second semester at the UO, after transferring from LCC, he said he is concerned that a model that does not focus on decreasing tuition will not prevent students, such as himself, from being priced out of college.

“My family could not figure out how to swing it and my account was put on hold. I wasn't able to register for this term and we were luckily able to find the funds right at the last minute and pay the university. And I even get a scholarship, and we're still struggling to pay for this. And the same is going to be this case this term.” 

He said it’s been difficult to make tuition payments because he only receives so much financial assistance.

“I'm taking out student loans, [but] these student loans I'm eligible for as a student, don't cover my tuition. Another issue that I have is I'm not eligible for any financial aid because of the IRS [gave] me an expected family contribution of $27,000 a year, which means they think that my family has the means to contribute $27,000 a year towards my education based on their income.”

But he said the reality of that is not true. He said his family is already struggling to make ends meet.

Proposed Tuition Model

The potential tuition model claims that for each entering class, there would be a set resident and nonresident tuition rate per student credit hour. That rate would be guaranteed—or locked—for five years. The UO would also implement one final tuition rate increase for all existing students and then provide them with a four year guarantee.

All administratively-controlled mandatory fees—such as the health fee, recreation center fee, technology fee, and Honor’s College differential tuition—would also be locked.

The university believes a locked-in rate could increase enrollment, as well as retain students who cite dropping out of school due to financial pressure, and improve campus climate.

History of Tuition Increases

But the same reasons the model is appealing to some students, are the same reasons the school is hesitant to implement the program. Regardless of what happens to state funding or other monetary resources for the UO higher education system, student tuition rates would be guaranteed for five years. That could be a problem for the UO if state funding is reduced due to an economic downfall—such as a recession—and the university could only increase tuition rates for incoming students.

During the last major recession from 2008 to 2009, the university increased tuition by 14.57% for the 2009-2010 school year. The presentation on the guaranteed model said implementing the model could mean recovering from funding cuts could take longer and use more reserves.

Since the 2007-2008 school year, the University of Oregon’s tuition has almost doubled over the past ten years. As shown in UO’s history of tuition chart, the UO’s tuition increases have outpaced inflation each year, except for the 2018-2019 school year.

This is one reason some students, such as Keough, are against the model.

“If state funding is to remain stagnant, or even decrease, where is the university going to make that up? They're going to be forced to cut departments. They're going to be forced to lay people off. They're going to be forced to continue to deny graduate students and staff and faculty the pay increases they deserve to maintain a living wage.”

Roger Thompson is the Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management. As of now, Thompson said the UO relies on student tuition to pay for 45%-50% of UO’s budget. He said schools across the country, including UO, have had to compensate for state funding decreases in public higher education over the last 30 years. This has forced the school to redistribute and increase the cost of tuition in order to pay for the institution’s increasing operating costs—such as salaries and healthcare.

Student’s Cons for Fixed Tuition

If a student takes longer than five years to graduate, in their sixth year they would pay the same tuition rate as students in the cohort behind them. If they stay a seventh year, they would be charged the rates of the cohort behind that.

James John is an alum who graduated from the University of Oregon two years ago with a bachelor’s of science and education. He is concerned for non-traditional students, such as himself, who took two years off because he could not afford tuition. He also switched his major twice, which altogether, caused him to stay in school for a total of six years.

“Having that idea that you take a gap year or two gap years, you already run out of the model and your tuition is going go back up.”

Josie Field is a senior psychology and Spanish major with a minor in queer studies. She said she came tonight because she’s been involved in tuition advocacy since her freshman year. Although most of her tuition is paid for through grants and scholarships, she said she would not be able to attend school if she did not have that financial support.

Field is specifically concerned the new model would make tuition unaffordable for marginalized students—including people of color, LGBTQ students, and low-income residents—and others who are already struggling to afford tuition.

“We already know that a ton of people don't come to higher ed in the first place cause it's inaccessible to them financially. And who are those people? Mostly marginalized folks. Who are the people who don't have a lot of money? We know these demographics. If we're trying to claim a ‘diverse campus,’ how is this going to affect those folks coming in and is this barrier of entry just going to be way too high?”

Process for Determining Tuition Rates (Next Steps)

Like many other students in the room, Field said she was also frustrated with the university’s process for informing students about the model.

“I think the biggest thing is just the fact that they haven't been flushed anything out yet. And I understand that part of us being here is them wanting to hear issues before they have to think about them, but I just think it's frustrating to have all these questions and them really not being able to have any sort of an answer because they just haven't thought about things.”

Instead of using a model that would fix tuition rates for multiple years, Keough wants the university to looking into making higher education more affordable by decreasing tuition.

“Every year I've been in school, tuition is increased and even if it did remain stagnant and I was locked in for a five year period, the fact of the matter is I still can't afford it. And the fact of the matter is I still could have afforded it 10 years ago. The real issue here is affordability and regardless if I'm locked in, I'm still being priced out.”

The institution’s tuition rate is determined by UO Board of Trustees after reviewing administration recommendations.

TFAB will discussions the model at their meetings through January and give a recommendation to President Schill in early February. Schill will make his recommendation to the board by early March.