Students convince PSU president to lower tuition hike

University will cut one million dollars from rainy day fund

After students shared personal stories and held two strikes in response to impending tuition hikes, Portland State President Rahmat Shoureshi and the Board of Trustees agreed to lower the 2018–2019 tuition hike for in-state students from 4.98 to 3.95 percent.

According to Shoureshi, the difference—which amounts to about one million dollars—will come out of PSU’s five million dollar rainy day fund.

“We do listen to [students],” Shoureshi said in a statement. “We will look at ways to increase resources through financial aid and partnerships with the business community.”

When the Board convened on April 12 to vote on the 4.98 percent tuition hike, dozens of students showed up to protest and share the difficulties they faced in affording tuition. In response, the Board delayed its vote and asked the administration for an efficiency report.

On Wednesday, April 25, the Board approved the smaller increase in a special meeting, but not before students protested again.

The PSU Student Union held a rally in the South Park Blocks April 25 to demand a three-year tuition freeze along with salary cuts for the 25 top-earning administrators. Associated Students of PSU Vice President Donald Thompson III was the main speaker.

“I just want to help give the student body the opportunity to speak up and be heard,” Thompson said. Thompson claimed he found 11.2 percent of the university’s budget last year was allocated to administrative overhead and noted Shoureshi makes over $600,000 a year, over 20 percent more than former president Wim Wiewel.

Shoureshi makes over $600,000 a year, over 20 percent more than former president Wim Wiewel.

The rally attracted attention from observers, including a number of faculty members who cheered the students on. “People’s lives are difficult enough,” said a faculty member who did not want their name published. “There are a lot of expenses in life, and a good education should be a priority, [but] it shouldn’t have to be the biggest of those expenses.”

They added, “Placing the rising cost solely on the back of students further exacerbates student debt issues.”

Ralliers marched from the Park Blocks to Shoureshi’s office on the eighth floor of the Market Center Building on SW 4th Ave. More than 30 chanting attendees filed past a security guard and into the elevators with the intent to deliver a letter to the president’s office, but it was locked when they arrived. The group staged a sit-in and read written statements instead.

“I understand [some] of the student points about how it already is an emergency, and some students can’t afford to pay rent and tuition,” Shoureshi said in a press conference on April 27. Shoureshi added that when students shared their experiences with rising expenses at the April 12 Board meeting, “the part that really stuck in my mind was when a member of [ASPSU] said, ‘We come here every year and present our case, and it seems like you don’t listen to us.’”

Shoureshi said these concerns are why the university implemented the Four Years Free and Transfers Finish Free programs this year. “We are trying to really address the neediest group of our students,” he said.

Additionally, he said, the university has allocated funds to help students running out of money during their senior year. “The last thing we want is a student to have to drop out during their senior year due to a lack of funds,” Shoureshi said.

In response to Thompson’s claim, he added, he and other administration, as well as full-time faculty, make less money than their counterparts at Oregon State University and University of Oregon. However, Shoureshi said this becomes a challenge when recruiting qualified professors to PSU who could make more money elsewhere.

“We want the community and students to see this is an incredibly difficult situation, Shoureshi said. “We want the students to know we care and listen [when they say] they wish tuition wouldn’t increase.”

“PSU will remain more affordable than most other Oregon universities,” said Associate Vice President for University Communications Chris Broderick in a statement. “For resident undergraduates, annual tuition and fees at PSU will be about $2,800 a year lower than [UO], $2,100 lower than [OSU] and lower than [Oregon Institute of Technology] and Southern and Western Oregon Universities.”

Updated at 3:15 p.m. on April 30, 2018 to correct a statement about administrative overhead attributed to Donald Thompson III.

The rally was organized by ASPSU and also featured some speakers from the PSU ISO. Students called for a 0 percent tuition increase and a freeze on salaries for the top 25 earners. Chris Arnone