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Register-Guard: University Seeks To Raise Fees Without Losing Students

The Register Guard | April 12, 2014 8 p.m. | Updated: April 14, 2014 10:28 a.m. | Eugene, Oregon

Contributed By:

Diane Dietz

University of Oregon administrator Brad Shelton recently had to explain to the new UO Board of Trustees a delicate fact about university financing.

He put a pie chart on a screen and revealed that most of the pie was colored red.

“This is the, kind of, scary graph,” he said. “Can you see the number in the really big red (slice)? It says 59 percent — 59 percent of all our tuition revenue is (from) nonresident undergraduates.”

The UO is dependent on outside money.

Out-of-state students — including international students — bring the lion’s share of tuition into the university. The outside students will pay $221 million this school year, while in-state students will contribute $77 million.

The new trustees recently reviewed and approved the UO’s plan for the 2014-15 tuition and fees.

They then passed the figures on to the state Board of Higher Education for final approval on June 6 — for the last time ever.

In July, the UO trustees will assume control of the university, and setting tuition will be their job alone.

For the coming school year, the state Legislature limited the university’s choices by requiring a freeze on in-state tuition. UO administrators turned to the out-of-state students to cover part of the school’s increasing costs.

But the danger in that strategy is that out-of-state students — mostly from California — will migrate to universities in other states if being a Duck should get too expensive.

The UO is proposing tuition-and-fees of $30,888 for out-of-state students for the next school year — up 4 percent from the current year.

In addition, international students will pay a new, $126 fee for advising and other services. That fee is set to increase automatically to $200 over the next four years.

A trustee asked Shelton, who is vice provost for budget and planning, if the international students object?

“Yes,” he replied, “but it has not been vehement,”

For in-state students, meanwhile, the cost of tuition and fees is proposed at $9,918 — up 2 percent from the current year.

All students are paying a new $67 per-term fee for a renovation of the Erb Memorial Union, which is under way.

Out-of-state students, at $30,888 annually, will pay a lot of money to attend the UO, which is ranked no. 109 among the nation’s colleges, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The out-of-state tuition level makes the UO about as expensive as Penn State University at No. 37 and Georgia Institute of Technology at No. 36.

Counting the full cost of attendance (with housing, books, transportation, etc.) for out-of-state students, estimated at $42,700 at the UO, the sum rivals the costs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at No. 41 and the University of Florida at No. 49.

“On the nonresident side, we appear to be at market or even slightly above, which is something we’re watching carefully,” UO Chief Financial Officer Jamie Moffitt told the trustees.

Roger Thompson, vice president for enrollment management, is keeping a bead on the Golden State, particularly this year, when all the schools in the University of California system decided against tuition increases.

Thompson is looking for any sign of attrition among Californians who have already applied to attend the UO next year.

“We’re watching closely our application and deposit trends through the Bay Area, which has been a traditional stronghold for the UO,” Thompson told the trustees.

“And then we’re watching closely what’s happening, basically, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. That’s a new market that we opened (in 2010), and it’s been our-fastest growing market.”

The worry about turning off out-of-state students had the UO’s Tuition and Fee Advisory Board splitting hairs this spring.

“That’s part of the reason why we only went with the 3 percent increase,” said Dana Rognlie, a student and committee member. “There was concern that, if we went with the 4 percent increase or even the 3.5 percent increase, we would lose out-of-state students.”

Rognlie, who’s a member of the campus-based League of Educators and Students Slashing Tuition, or LESS T, said even the tuition that in-state students pay is too much.

“Students are still going into debt,” she said. “Even as we keep it down (next year), we’re still at record levels of tuition and fees for the university.”

Students are planning an April 25 forum on student loans to delve into the issue of increasing costs, their causes and what can be done so students don’t accumulate a burdensome amount.

A UO trustee pointed out that Oregon State University has charged its out-of-state students about $6,000 less per year than the UO does.

“We have stronger demand among nonresidents than Oregon State does,” Thompson explained. “Demand has allowed us to take the price a little bit higher than Oregon State does.”

But statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse showed that, this year, the UO lost 116 out-of-state students to OSU, including 64 from California.

“We have some fairly sophisticated tools,” Shelton told trustees, “for understanding our marketplace when it comes to nonresident students, comparing, what is the cost at other schools? How do students from a given location react to those costs — where do they go?”

This year, the UO accepted but lost:

416 out-of-state students (including 252 Californians) who chose the University of Colorado, Boulder.

329 out-of-staters (including 187 Californians) who chose the University of Arizona.

402 out-of-staters (including 130 from California) who chose the University of Washington.

The reasons for choosing elsewhere are complex, and Rognlie has a novel theory: Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana, she said.

“I would argue that has something to do with it, at least this past year,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Ron Lang lived in the San Francisco Bay area about four years ago when his son decided to attend the UO.

The younger Lang applied to some California schools, too, but he liked the powerful connection that UO students get with their school, his father said. The family knew that, for them, tuition would be more than triple the cost of what Oregon students pay.

“If he were going to a private school, we would be paying the same or more, so it was a no-brainer,” Lang said.

Besides, he said, it’s all but impossible to get admitted to the public universities in California.

“Our son was a good student, but we had friends from his (high school) graduating class who had a (son with a) 4.25 overall GPA with lots of sports and other extracurriculars. He played instruments and spoke foreign languages — and he still couldn’t get in,” the elder Lang said.

Lang retired half way through his son’s schooling at the UO. The family moved to Ashland and underwent the laborious process of establishing residency.

“Boom. His tuition dropped by two-thirds. Actually, more than two thirds. It went from $27,000-to-$30,000 a year, down to $7 grand.”

Lang said the UO administrators shouldn’t sweat the California market — or the 3 percent they proposed to add to the out-of-state tuition for next year.

“Any family that can afford to pay out-of-state tuition for their kids to go to UO can certainly afford to absorb another 3 percent,” he said. “(Administrators) are taking zero risk.”

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