Tuition 101: Making sense of what college classes cost at Oregon’s big public universities

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
April 26, 2023 1 p.m.

Oregon is fast approaching an important period in its higher education calendar. College-bound high schoolers need to make final commitments about where they’ll go to school this fall, as public universities are setting their tuition rates and state lawmakers continue to debate funding levels for higher education.

For many universities in Oregon, May 1 is the deadline for families to put down deposits on tuition and officially start the college registration process.


But, what tuition and financial aid look like across the Oregon higher education landscape varies from school to school and can get confusing quickly.

Higher education leaders in Oregon note that tuition often climbs higher in Oregon, because of low funding levels from the state Legislature. According to a recent analysis by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, all of Oregon’s neighboring states invest more per student in their universities than Oregon does.

Public institutions typically offer different rates for in-state students and out-of-state students. Some institutions also have different rates for incoming students compared to returning students. In some cases, they’re different for students in one graduating class to the next. Rates also may vary for different programs, course modalities and campus locations.

So far, none of Oregon’s public universities have decided on tuition increases higher than 5%. When they hit that threshold, they would have to get approval from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which is by no means guaranteed.

Here’s what tuition and financial aid look like for Oregon’s largest public universities to get a sense of how things vary.

Portland State University

Out of the largest public universities in the state, Portland State University has the most traditional tuition structure. It decides on new tuition rates every school year, and the increases typically differ for in-state students and out-of-state students. That’s how Oregon’s smaller public universities function as well.

This fall, a full-time student at PSU enrolled in 15 credits would pay $9,315 per year, if they’re a resident of Oregon. If they’re from out-of-state, that 15-credit tuition is $28,215 per year. That’s a 3.5% increase for in-state students and a just more than 1% increase for out-of-state students from the year prior.

Undergraduate students aiming to get a bachelor’s degree in four years need to earn 15 credits per term, or 45 credits per year, on average. Though, students are technically full-time, and eligible for state financial aid, if they take at least 12 credits per term.

File photo of Portland State University campus.

File photo of Portland State University campus.

Hanin Najjar / OPB

PSU serves a far more diverse student population in comparison to other large universities in the state, with students of color accounting for roughly 40% of the population, first-generation college students making up nearly 50% and students with children representing 25% of the campus community. Also, more than 80% of students at PSU are from Oregon.

Portland State University earlier this year expanded its free tuition program aimed at covering tuition for lower-income Oregonians.

The “Tuition-Free Degree” program is an expansion of PSU’s previous Four Years Free and Transfers Finish Free programs, which covered tuition for full-time Oregon residents whose incomes were low enough to qualify for federal Pell grants. The new program now also covers part-time students.

PSU also offers in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students who are members of any of the country’s nearly 600 federally-recognized Native American tribes.

PSU announced this program last year. Similar programs were implemented at every other public university in the state, minus the University of Oregon, which created its own slightly different scholarship program specifically for Native American students from Oregon.

Portland State is also a part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program, a scholarship program for out-of-state students from more than a dozen states and territories, including California, Washington and Idaho. That program gives eligible out-of-state students discounted tuition rates, equal to 150% of in-state tuition.

Oregon State University

Similar to PSU, Oregon State University charges different tuition rates based on whether a student lives in Oregon or is from elsewhere. But OSU also offers different tuition rates for new students compared to continuing students.

The university says it increases tuition rates for continuing students at or below the rate of inflation every year. New students typically see higher rates that are “more in line with market comparators” in order to fund resources and program improvements, according to OSU Board of Trustees documents.


In-state undergraduate students starting this fall can expect to pay $11,460 per year in tuition if they’re taking 15 credits per term. New out-of-state students can expect to pay $34,305 per year for 15 credits per term. Returning students — both in-state and out-of-state — will pay less than new students.

Tuition increases at Oregon State vary depending on if a student is new or continuing. New students typically see a higher tuition increase when they start compared to continuing students, who tend to see increases closer to the rate of inflation.

Tuition increases at Oregon State vary depending on if a student is new or continuing. New students typically see a higher tuition increase when they start compared to continuing students, who tend to see increases closer to the rate of inflation.

Meerah Powell / OPB

Like PSU, and most other public universities in the state, Oregon State is also part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program, offering discounted tuition to eligible out-of-state students.

According to Oregon State, the WUE scholarships are “competitive,” and the university only offers the scholarships to about 10% of students from WUE-affiliated states.

The university also offers a number of scholarships for new students, transfer students and continuing students. According to OSU, the university will increase its institutional financial aid offerings by $10 million for the next school year, bumping it up to $95 million. That’s more than double the amount the school was offering in the 2018-19 school year.

“We take into account student needs, inflation, state support and the financial cost of a college education that students and families bear,” OSU President Jayathi Murthy said in a statement. “While the board decided tuition and fees for the next academic year, the university will also increase institutional student financial aid to $95 million to help students and their families most impacted by tuition increases.”

University of Oregon

The University of Oregon also offers different tuition rates for incoming students in comparison to continuing students, but in a cohort model — a “guaranteed” tuition system, which started in 2020. That means each class of undergraduate students has a locked-in rate of tuition and administrative mandatory fees that won’t change for up to five years.

While UO has the highest tuition out of the public universities, university officials say the guaranteed tuition model should reassure families that over their college career, prices will stay stable and the financial aid package they receive their first year will hold the same value as when they graduate. And, depending on tuition increases at other universities, UO’s guaranteed tuition model could prove to be cheaper in the long run, according to college officials.

Tuition at University of Oregon varies depending on when a student starts. The university locks tuition rates in for up to five years by cohort.

Tuition at University of Oregon varies depending on when a student starts. The university locks tuition rates in for up to five years by cohort.

Meerah Powell / OPB

UO is not part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program, but it has a number of scholarship programs available to students.

It unveiled its program for Native American students from Oregon, called the Home Flight Scholars Program, in October of last year. That program covers full tuition and fees and provides advising and mentorship opportunities for Native American undergraduates at UO. Eligible students can be enrolled members of any of the federally recognized tribes in the country, but they must be Oregon residents.

The university also has the PathwayOregon scholarship program, which ensures all Pell Grant eligible in-state students with at least a 3.4 grade point average have their tuition and fees covered.

UO also has specific scholarships available to out-of-state students as well.

Students who attend the public universities, and many of the private universities as well, also have access to specific state and federal scholarship programs.

State financial aid

Outside of the individual financial aid offerings at specific schools, there are programs available at the state to help bring down the cost of college for Oregon students.

The Oregon Opportunity Grant is a state-funded, need-based grant program. It awards grants to Oregonians who are working toward their first associate’s or bachelor’s degree at an eligible public or private college or university.

The grant awards are decided every year by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and depend on a student’s financial need. Awards for this upcoming school year are limited to families who can afford to pay no more than $8,000 per year for college.

Students could receive up to $3,900 if they’re attending community college and roughly $5,000 if they’re going to a four-year college or university, depending on their expected family contribution.

There’s no separate application process for the Oregon Opportunity Grant. Oregon students only have to fill out their free application for federal student aid (FAFSA), or Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA) for undocumented students, as they normally would when applying for colleges.

The FAFSA and ORSAA applications open in October, in the year prior to when the student will be attending college — so for this coming fall, the window opened last October. Those applications stay open into the upcoming school year, but it’s recommended to fill them out as soon as possible to have the best chance of getting financial aid awards. Also, many colleges, universities and grant programs have their own individual deadlines.

Oregon students who attend community college could have their tuition paid for by the Oregon Promise Grant. Oregon Promise is a state-run program that helps to cover tuition for recent high school or GED program graduates, without a limit on family income. The Oregon Promise Grant application is open now for students who graduate between March and the end of June this year.

The Oregon Tribal Student Grant is available to offset college costs for students who are members of one of the nine federally-recognized Native tribes in the state. That program began last fall, thanks to a bill from the state Legislature.