The Higher Education Coordinating Commission blocked tuition increases for some of Oregon’s largest universities.
Protesting students briefly interrupted the commission meeting Thursday with chants of “HECC No!” — a play on the acronym for the state’s top university supervising body.
The statewide commission did say “no” twice to two of Oregon’s largest universities: University of Oregon and Portland State University.
Gov. Kate Brown told the HECC to deny tuition increases of more than 5 percent if they didn’t meet certain criteria. Commissioners heard testimony Thursday morning, and then in the afternoon, they had a vote on one university’s proposal interrupted by protesting students.
The HECC turned down an 11 percent tuition increase for the University of Oregon and a more than 8 percent hike for Portland State.
Commission members raised concerns about the lack of engagement with students and student groups, as one reason for rejecting the tuition increases.
One commissioner suggested that turning down the tuition hikes would send a message to state lawmakers to spend more on public universities.
“I think it’s wise to send a shot across the bow,” said Commissioner Terry Cross. “If we want to keep pressure on the Legislature, this is the place to do it.”
The rejection was not well-received at Portland State University. In a statement, public relations Director Ken Ma noted that PSU was grappling with a $20 million budget shortfall that would grow by another $5 million without the tuition increase.
“Details of those cuts are not yet determined, but the size of the cuts will likely mean that programs and need-based scholarships will be affected,” read the PSU statement. “There are no good options here and we are asking the HECC to reconsider [Thursday’s] vote.”
None of the five votes on tuition increases were unanimous, but three universities got the necessary “yes” votes from commissioners to approve their hikes: Western Oregon University, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Institute of Technology.
The state’s other public universities, Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University kept their tuition hikes under the 5 percent ceiling, so didn’t need HECC approval.