With a slashed budget and a pay-per-credit tuition plan in place, Portland State University students now face life at a college where their education may be less enriched than in the past, but will cost more money.
Trouble began brewing as the Oregon Legislature examined the state’s monetary problems and, as a result, allocated a shoddy budget to the Oregon University System (OUS). It, in turn, was forced to cut the budgets of the several universities under its umbrella.
PSU students started to feel this noose tightening in January, when an approximately $120 surcharge was plopped on top of their normal tuition and fees.
The Student Fee Committee has so-far managed to keep the basic student fees from rising through creative monetary distribution. However, administrative fees have already begun to climb and the promise of rising tuition rates came early in the year.
The latest blow to students’ wallets came July 18, when the OUS board decided to eliminate the tuition plateau, a system that allows students taking between 12 and 18 units to pay the same flat rate.
By eliminating this system, students will now be forced to pay for their classes on a per-credit basis, meaning most will see dramatic increases in their tuition.
This decision was based on a recommendation from PSU’s Budget and Priorities Committee (BPC) to help alleviate budgetary problems.
University President Daniel Bernstine stated that the decision to eliminate the plateau was not due to budget problems. However, the BPC’s “white paper,” the committee’s recommended course of action regarding PSU’s budget, stated that eliminating the tuition plateau “could increase tuition revenue by $0.5 to 4.5 million.”
Berstine admits that the plateau elimination has helped to alleviate some budgetary woes, but that it was really part of a bigger plan to integrate PSU more with other Oregon universities that are already without a plateau, such as University of Oregon.
Cathy Dyck, associate vice president for finance and planning, called the reason “equity.”
The “white paper” also stated, “Dyck recently presented this idea to the student senate, and they were very much in favor of it.”
However, senators at that meeting, held April 23, stated clear opposition to Dyck’s proposal.
She said that the wording in the “white paper” may have been poorly chosen but that she felt the senate saw the plateau elimination as a more favorable option over just narrowing the plateau.
However, ASPSU Vice President Joe Johnson, who was a senator at the time of that meeting, said, “The senate was never in favor of eliminating the tuition plateau at any time.”
Bernstine supports the plateau elimination because he feels it equalizes tuition for all students.
“Every student will be paying for the credit that they take,” he said. “Students will be more selective of what they take.”
Members of ASPSU are concerned about selectivity, however, noting that many students will no longer take extracurricular classes such as P.E. and music because it will just cost too much extra money.
Bernstine stated that while students will enroll in fewer of those classes, it also costs the university a fair amount of money to offer them in the first place. He also feels that by taking advantage of the plateau, students have essentially been taking free classes.
“I don’t think it’s fair for students to subsidize other students,” he said.
Bernstine did admit, however, that PSU may lose students as a result of the plateau elimination. He is not concerned about eliminating access to higher education, however, because he feels, in the long run, “the overall cost, in the end, will actually be the same.”
ASPSU sees things slightly differently.
Johnson explained, “ASPSU has taken the stance against the tuition plateau removal because it undermines access to a diverse education and creates more barricades between students and their degree.”
He and Marino feel that access to higher education has been demolished by eliminating the plateau and essentially drastically raising the tuition cost.
“Students shouldn’t be penalized for being ambitious,” Johnson said.
The plateau will still be in place for fall term, though based on current plans, the elimination will go into effect this coming January.
However, ASPSU plans to continue fighting against the plateau, even with current implementation plans already underway.
They are currently in talks with administrators, culminating in a meeting today, to try and resolve concerns from both parties and come to a mutual agreement, possibly by sometime in early September.