The Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission rejected Portland State University’s proposed 8.4 percent tuition increase in Salem on May 11.
While HECC’s refusal counts as a win for students who rallied against tuition increases, PSU will now likely cut need-based scholarships on top of $9 million in cuts from academic departments where decreased budgets are already being implemented.
While the PSU administration says it hopes HECC will reconsider its vote, some students and faculty say they hope the decision will pressure state legislators to fund higher education more. In the meantime, due to a $20 million budget deficit, lower-paid adjunct professors are being let go before the Fall 2017 Quarter. The budget is also unlikely to accommodate the proposed $15 minimum wage for student workers.
Tuition hike turned down
According to Oregon state law, any tuition increase greater than 5 percent must be approved by the HECC. According to an Oregonian report, Governor Kate Brown told the commission this year to be critical of high tuition increases, and that schools needed to both consult students and faculty and show how low-income and minority students would benefit from higher costs.
The commission approved a 7.4 percent tuition hike at the Oregon Institute of Technology and an 11.4 percent increase at Southern Oregon University. According to PSU Vice Provost Scott Marshall, PSU’s tuition increase was rejected by a 4–3 vote.
“Today’s HECC vote will mean an additional $5 million in cuts will have to be made to balance PSU’s budget,” stated PSU President Wim Wiewel’s office in a statement. “Details of those cuts are not yet determined, but the size of the cuts will likely mean that programs and need-based scholarships will be affected.”
Wiewel also said in an earlier Vanguard interview that the $15 an hour minimum student wage proposed by recent student votes is “unlikely to go through” because it would add another $2.5 million to the 2017–19 biennium budget.
While Associated Students of PSU President-elect Brent Finkbeiner and Vice President-elect Donald Thompson III said they advocated against the tuition increase, they expressed frustration that more money is not coming from the state to fund higher education.
“The most frustrating part is [that] the money we need is in the economy, but it’s not going to higher education,” the two student-government officials expressed in a joint statement. “We need to find new revenue because the projected increase in tuition of approximately 40 percent over the next six years is unacceptable.”
The 8.4 percent tuition increase was projected to rope in an additional $5 million along with $9 million in cuts from the eight colleges at PSU. This would have ultimately would have raised in-state tuition above $9,000 annually and kept the university from operating at its current service level.
The rise in cost, according to the Oregon Public University Council, mostly comes from increases in the Public Employees Retirement System, employee health insurance costs, and changes to the Oregon Opportunity Grant, all of which are allegedly out of Oregon state universities’ control.
In April 2016, the OPUC proposed a $765 million funding request for the 2017–19 biennium to Brown in order to keep tuition increases under 5 percent. Brown recommended only $667.3 million last December.
According to Gerardo Lafferriere, PSU’s Faculty Senate Budget Committee Chair and Professor in mathematics, PSU expects “at best” a flat enrollment in the coming years, meaning less tuition revenue. Lafferriere said he believes the enrollment decline tends to correlate less with tuition increases as opposed to general economic conditions.
Editor’s Note: [May 23, 5 p.m.] A line in this article originally said the Faculty Senate Budget Committee is implementing departmental budget cuts. FSBC is an advisory committee and does not implement or propose budgets. Budgets are prepared by the PSU Provost and deans and the Vice President of Finance & Administration. This article has been updated to reflect this.