Portland State University

Portland State University

Hanin Najjar / OPB

Portland State University President Stephen Percy stressed Thursday the urban university’s mission of accessibility to people from all economic backgrounds. But he said an increase in student tuition and fees is unavoidable.

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Shortly after, PSU’s Board of Trustees approved increased tuition rates for the next academic year.

Portland State is among multiple public universities in the state continuing to struggle with rising costs and limited revenue due to falling enrollment during the pandemic.

“Tuition for us is a necessity. The state covers only 35% of our educational costs. We strive to be affordable,” Percy said. “We also must meet our obligation to deliver an outstanding experience in the classroom and outside of it. That requires resources, and the resource needs increase each year.”

Among Oregon’s public universities, only Oregon State University dodged a decrease in student enrollment over the last couple of years. According to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Portland State saw nearly an 11% decrease in the number of enrolled students from fall 2019 to last fall. That’s on top of a decrease in enrollment prior to the pandemic, for roughly the past decade, according to board materials.

Irving Levin, Chair of PSU’s Finance and Administration Committee, said during Thursday’s meeting that the university is expecting to see lower enrollment again next year.

The PSU board approved tuition increases for both in-state and out-of-state students during its meeting.

In-state undergraduate students will see a 3.6% tuition hike. That equates to $315 more annually if a student is taking 15 credits per term in a normal three-term year. Next academic year, those students will pay $9,000 annually in tuition compared to $8,685 now.

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Out-of-state undergraduates will see a 1.1% increase in tuition. That’s the same dollar amount — $315 more annually with those same credit hours. Out-of-state students will be paying $27,900 in comparison to the current annual rate of $27,585.

That’s still cheaper than Oregon’s other two largest universities — the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

The board also approved increases for graduate students: 1.6% for those in-state, and a 1% increase for out-of-state.

“The recommendation we bring we believe balances a series of really difficult choices,” PSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Kevin Reynolds said Thursday. “We need to do some budget reductions. We need to have some moderate increases in tuition.”

In keeping with its mission to stay affordable for students, PSU has increased its tuition discounting for various groups of students while enrollment has continued to decline.

According to the tuition proposal, roughly 45% of incoming in-state freshman students and transfer students next fall are estimated to be eligible for programs like PSU’s “Four Years Free” and “Transfers Finish Free,” which cover standard tuition and mandatory fees.

“The benefit of these programs is that they ensure eligible students are protected from resident undergraduate tuition increases, however, this limits the level of additional net tuition revenue that might be expected through future year tuition increases,” Reynolds explained in the written tuition proposal included in board documents.

PSU also recently expanded its “Washington Border Policy,” which offers discounted tuition to students living in certain Washington counties.

The university is likely facing inflation increases of more than 4%, according to Reynolds, but the recommended budget increase for the next fiscal year is only 2% — essentially a cut from the university’s current service level.

Reynolds said even with the tuition increases, the university will need to use $10 million of its reserves to build the budget. It will most likely need to use more reserve funds on other necessities outside of its operational budget, he said, as the university officially sets its budget in the next few months.

PSU announced a “strategic hiring freeze” in early 2020 where some vacant positions were only filled if administrators determined them to be essential to university operations. Reynolds said that the hiring freeze will continue into next year.

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