UNIVERISITIES, STUDENTS FACED WITH CATCH-22
Oregon's public universities are in a tough predicament because of dwindling state support. Raise tuition significantly and risk losing students, or impose a more modest tuition hike and risk cutting programs. The state's revenue crisis doesn't bode well for higher education in Oregon a state that never has supported higher ed to the extent it should.
Eastern Oregon University is among the institutions in this Catch-22. State revenues have fallen over the course of the past couple of years to the extent that every public entity is reviewing what it can offer in terms of the dollars available. And with no new revenue plans on the table, other than fee increases for any number of things, the universities are left with little choice but to hike tuition fees or eliminate programs.
Eastern is looking at the largest increase in the state 32 percent from fall term a year ago.
EOU's annual tuition and fees would climb to $4,840 from last fall's $3,678, down from an originally proposed $5,097. The latter figure would have made Eastern's tuition the highest among the state's universities. The $4,840 puts it in line with others the University of Oregon is proposing $5,039, up from $4,359 a year ago; $4,869 for Oregon State, up from $4,014 a year ago; $4,758 for Portland State ($3,885); $4,443 for OIT ($3,843); $4,305 for Western Oregon ($3,720); and $4,153 for Southern ($3,687). The schools had proposed even larger increases for the coming year.
The increases over last year's tuition rates are significant, ranging from 13 percent at SOU to 32 percent at Eastern. They would present a hardship to many students, especially in a state that even when times were good offered little in terms of financial aid. Too, last year the Legislature depleted a fund that supported college scholarships.
Students asked the Oregon Board of Higher Education, which oversees the Oregon University System, to hold off on the tuition hikes because they could bring to an end many students' college plans. The system plans to delay the increases until winter term, taking into account students' ability to pay for a fall term they may already be registered for.
The scenario isn't pretty, and it isn't fair to students who want and deserve a college education. But the only alternatives barring a sudden change in the economy or a miracle in the Legislature are raising tuition or decimating programs. Oregon's universities are already strapped to provide teachers for many of the classes they plan to offer. Eastern is in that very predicament.
The long-term answer lies with our elected officials. Frankly, they're not providing many long-term solutions. Students will have to carry the load until Oregonians elect leaders with the willingness and the guts to look for other solutions.