Oregon State University is the latest of the state’s public institutions to attempt to set appropriate tuition levels as it wrestles with the financial uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coming out of a tuition-setting process that began last October, new students at Oregon State University could see about a 4% tuition increase while continuing students could see an increase of roughly 2.5%.
Those are the rates the university’s Finance and Administration Committee is passing onto the full Board of Trustees to approve at its meeting on Friday.
Officials at a committee meeting Thursday said the differing tuition increases aim to address inflation rates for continuing students, as they take into account inflation and boosting investments for new students.
“It’s to recognize that the important commitment is that first entry into the university,” Associate Vice President of Budget and Resource Planning, Sherman Bloomer said on Thursday. “Ok, you’ve committed to us, you’ve finished your first year, we’re going to keep your rate increases somewhat lower. For the next cohort of students we’re going to recruit, yes, we’re going to raise your rate a little more; we’re going to take that additional money and make some investments to improve the experience you’re going to see.”
“A lot of it is trying to communicate that sense of commitment from us and some predictability for them,” Bloomer said.
Some committee members proposed a discussion of a tuition freeze, though the consensus stood that it would not be a realistic move as the university begins to recover from the pandemic.
“I understand that inflation will increase the cost on the university,” finance committee member and student trustee, Khawater Hussein, said. “I still think that a tuition freeze would make the most sense in this case. … This is pushing it onto the students and families, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”
Hussein was the only committee member who voted against recommending the increases to the full Board of Trustees.
Bloomer said the University Budget Committee, the advisory body that began tuition discussions late last year, had initially discussed a tuition freeze but decided against it.
Bloomer noted the UBC said a tuition freeze would have caused a “significant additional loss of revenue and a big hole to fill.”
Secondly, he said, tuition freezes are “need-blind” meaning they benefit all students, even those who have the ability to pay for an increase.
“The committee did not feel like that was the right place to go to both sustain the quality of programs and the faculty and staff delivering those programs and the quality of education, and recognize the differential need our students have,” Bloomer said.
OSU has done a tuition freeze in the recent past. Last spring, the university froze tuition rates for currently enrolled students — taking into account the ongoing pandemic.
Eastern Oregon University is currently the only public university in the state that has made the decision to freeze tuition in the current budget cycle. EOU approved keeping tuition where it is for current undergrads, for the upcoming school year.
At OSU, Bloomer noted the newly proposed tuition increases won’t cover all cost increases for the university.
“If we have to make investments beyond revenue growth … we make budget decisions and budget redirections as we have to,” he said.
A report documented in the Thursday meeting anticipated slowing enrollment growth in the coming school year.
The report projects a 1.3% decline in Corvallis resident undergraduate students and a 4% decline in out-of-state students, much of that coming from lower international enrollment. According to that report, the university does estimate a growth in online students — a projected 10% credit hour growth for the university’s “Ecampus,” but Bloomer noted many of those online students are part-time.
Bloomer said there will be better estimates of enrollment projections “as spring term unfolds.”
The Finance and Administration Committee is also recommending to the board increases to graduate student tuition of 1.5% for residents and 4.5% for out-of-state students. Increases are also recommended for students in professional degree programs, depending on the specific program.
Even with the recommended increases, the university projects it could still see a budget deficit for the coming fiscal year depending on the funding it receives from the state, as well as other indeterminate costs — such as what operations could look like in a return to a more “normal” campus experience.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget offers about $849 million to public universities — the same amount the universities received in the last biennial budgets. The institutions are advocating that amount get pushed up to $900 million.
OSU’s deficit could likely be anywhere from about $3 million to about $9 million, according to a report from Thursday’s meeting, though the university could see a much wider range of either a deficit or surplus budget depending on total expenses, enrollment and other currently unreliable factors.
“This is not as uncertain as a year ago,” Bloomer said. “But there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”