In the face of yearly tuition increases and decreasing enrollment, the University of Oregon is considering a guaranteed tuition model to boost recruiting. The Tuition and Fees Advisory Board (TFAB) held a forum on Jan 14 to discuss the proposed system, which would lock in tuition and fees at a set rate for each cohort
The forum, attended by about 80 students, staff and administrators, began with a presentation from TFAB, explaining the proposal. If implemented, it would mean that each year, tuition is set not just for that year but for the incoming freshman class, who pay the same cost in tuition and fees for the next five years. If a student takes more than five years to graduate, or has to take time off in the middle for health or personal reasons, they would be shifted into the price bracket of the next cohort for each additional year they stay at UO.
The reasoning behind the proposal seems straightforward: as tuition is rising, enrollment is falling, and since student tuition and fees are UO’s primary source of funding, it’s throwing resources into recruitment. One example of this is the wildly unnecessary Hamilton/Walton residence hall reconstruction, another example is guaranteed tuition. UO believes that if it can promise families up front exactly what four years will cost, students will be more likely to choose UO over other schools. Adding to this motivation is that many of UO’s competitors have already implemented similar policies.
While TFAB tried to paint the program in a positive light, students at the forum quickly saw some of its downsides. One student pointed out that under the proposal, a junior could be paying hundreds of dollars less for the same class than a freshman sitting next to them; the real value of a credit shouldn’t change depending on cohort year. In fact, many students voiced concern that the different tuition brackets could be divisive for the student body, causing younger students significantly more financial stress than their elders.
Other students raised concern about disenfranchisement from the tuition setting process. A junior told the group that they came to the forum because they’d been active in organizing to prevent tuition increases and were concerned that with the policy in place students would be less directly impacted by tuition hikes and thus less likely to actively protest them. The role of students in setting tuition is crucial for preventing UO from raising costs to exploitative levels.
Many students questioned the underlying cause of the need for guaranteed tuition, asking why UO couldn’t be funded by the state. TFAB tried to explain that the state has been continually disinvesting in higher education, leaving the university no choice but to milk its students for cash. However, examining Oregon legislature public records, this doesn’t seem to be the whole truth. In fact, Oregon’s adjusted-for-inflation investment not only in higher education in general but also in UO specifically has consistently gone up for the past five years. If anything, the state is prioritizing higher education more than it has in the past.
Funding is not so cut and dry, though. For one thing, OSU gets more than 1.5 times what UO gets from the state, even though they’re a smaller school. A student who has been to Salem lobbying for more state funding reported that democratic lawmakers are hesitant to give UO too much money as they don’t trust the Board of Trustees to spend it responsibly—a fair assessment considering state funds are being used for egoistic construction projects even while grad students and service workers fight for a living wage.
So why can’t the university, as one student put it, “decrease tuition now, instead of coming up with new, creative ways to keep increasing it”? It’s a multifaceted question, and TFAB quite literally had no answer — they just stood in awkward silence and finally asked if anyone else had anything to say. Clearly, guaranteed tuition will do nothing to decrease tuition.