Tuition reform shows promise

By Observer editorial February 04, 2011 05:18 pm
The recession tsunami is hitting Oregon with a vengeance, and Eastern Oregon University is no exception. EOU, however, is wisely getting a jump start in preparing for anticipated state budget cuts. The formula sounds easy: Increase revenue. Reduce expenses.
Putting such a plan into place, though, is anything but easy. Human costs stand out as a reason. Any move is bound to cause some pain. Higher tuition could cause some students to drop out. Layoffs could hurt whole families for generations to come.

One way EOU is considering increasing revenue is charging out-of-region tuition starting in 2012. The school has long been famous, locally, for charging all students, no matter where they are from in the world, the same tution. In fact, EOU is one of only a handful of public universities that do not charge out-of-state tuition.

The tuition proposal, as it now stands, is a good one. As described by President Bob Davies, it is in response to the state expecting to cut a subsidy it sends EOU for non-resident students, one it has sent for about 40 years.

The tuition proposal would not reduce access to higher education. That’s true at least for students hailing from the Northwest. What’s more, students already attending EOU would continue paying the equivalent of in-state tuition, and students now on campus from farther away would be grandfathered in at the current rates.

Of course, some students would suffer if the tuition change occurs, and the campus could become less cosmopolitan, less worldly. Poverty, it must be remembered, not uninspired students, is the real dropout problem, whether the student is from Dufur or Dubai. Steep tuition is a real hurdle, one of which Davies is aware, and even with the new rates, EOU’s out-of-region tuition would be competitive compared to other institutions its size. The out-of-region rate would be about double the in-region tuition. At most of Oregon’s state universities, that ratio is about triple.

Depending on what happens with the state budget, EOU’s continued commitment to excellence may require a new funding paradigm of which the tuition change is just one component. But it is important EOU stays fiscally strong and comes out of the recession with momentum. This is true because the power of education is so important, not just to students and teachers but to the community. A quality education equals more economic opportunities for graduates. A quality educational institution generates many benefits to the community. Strong schools attract businesses, a vibrant downtown, a stronger cultural mix with more opportunities for everyone, young and old.

To Davies credit, he is looking for a long-term solution, not a quick fix, to the financial crisis that has painted a bull’s-eye on Oregon’s back. In the long run, a sound fiscal approach will lead to expanded educational opportunities at EOU, and put it on a strong footing when the recession finally ends.