Universities Open, Students Open Bigger Than Ever Tuition Bills

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Classes resumed last week at Oregon’s universities and colleges for a new school year.

Around this time last year, Sockeye published our exploration into the numbers behind Oregon’s higher education system. We found that while operating costs were staying on track with inflation, tuition costs were continuing to rise. Why? Decreased state investment; since 2007, the Oregon Legislature slashed higher ed funding (per student) by 15%.

HighEdchart1Well, it’s a new school year and a new opportunity to delve into the issue. What have we learned since last school year?

For one, we learned that we’ve become so accustomed to tuition hikes, that we were actually cheering the results of this year’s rate hikes during the 2013 general legislative session. The Oregon Student Association called the overall results a victory; and here’s a real quote from our very own post-session debrief: “Lawmakers made strides to at least minimize rate hikes; while most Oregon students will still see increases to their tuition bills next year, it will be the smallest increase in six years.”

(“Wahoo,” says this author who recently received her increased-but-at-least-at-a-smaller-rate-than-last-year tuition bill. Turns out, it’s still more.)

For another, we’re looking more deeply at what Oregon’s disinvestment means on the national scale.

David Sarasohn wrote earlier last month on this very issue. A recent report from Washington state, provided by a committee of wealthy business owners and influential policy makers, cites specifically that “reinvesting in higher education is the most powerful way to fuel our state’s economy.”

This is not news. But the recommendations that go along with it might be: The committee — again, comprised of primarily wealthy business owners — urged state lawmakers and university boards to increase opportunities for students, by increasing state investment per student, providing more scholarships, and ensuring a quality education by improving faculty salaries. In other words: Invest more tax dollars on our higher education system.HighEdchart3 Please!

This is actually the opposite of what Oregon has been doing over the last 5+ years.

Sarasohn writes of this tendency: “Despite what we [Oregon] consider dramatic efforts, we’re not actually gaining ground. In higher education, Oregon thinks its competition is the previous budget period. If it’s doing better than that, it thinks it’s winning.”

So, maybe it’s not wrong to cheer that we’ve limited tuition hikes — but that’s comparing Oregon to Oregon, as Sarasohn cautions us against. What of Oregon to other states? In case you missed that visual at the top, let’s take a look again:

HigherEd1Out of all states in the nation in 2010, Oregon spent the 3rd smallest percentage of our state budget on higher education costs.

While Oregon lawmakers, students, and business owners would likely agree with our neighbors to the north that we need accessible higher education opportunities, we do not seem to be putting it into place. Oregon public universities have raised tuition rates every single year for the last 6 years. The stateĀ  has invested less and less per student over the years. And, in fact, Oregon invests less in its higher education system than nearly any other state in the nation. This is not a formula for success.

This map is actually a teaser of an infographic we’re excited to share with you in full later next week. Stay tuned for the big reveal!

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