State commission blocks tuition increases at UO, PSU

Student protesters attempted to interrupt a vote by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission in Salem Thursday. The HECC approved tuition increases at three schools, but said no to hikes at UO and PSU. (KPTV)

Tensions ran high in Salem Thursday where a vote was taken on raising tuition at five of Oregon’s public universities.

With state funding lacking, those universities are all facing a tough budget choice, cut programs and staff or raise tuition.

When the members of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission cast their votes, a group of students with the Oregon Student Association wearing life jackets and holding signs saying students are “Drowning in Debt” interrupted the proceedings.

Southern Oregon University student Emily Pfeiffer said the disruption was due to a commissioner casting a “Yes” vote for a tuition increase at her school.

“Commissioners were starting to approve the SOU 12 percent tuition hike, so we pushed back on them because they were not representing students in there,” she said.

The commissioners then told the students they had to settle down or leave.

Much of the discussion at the meeting centered on Portland State University, which was trying to pass a 9 percent increase, but in the end, the HECC voted not to raise tuition there.

It was one of five of Oregon's seven universities that proposed tuition and mandatory fee increases starting in the fall. The Commission approved increases at Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT), Southern Oregon University (SOU), and Western Oregon University (WOU). The proposals for Portland State University (PSU) and University of Oregon (UO) were not approved, in part related to concerns about student involvement in the tuition-setting process. Both PSU and UO fell one vote short of the five Commissioner votes required for passage.

Students at WOU were not thrilled with the news.

“Having this increase is just going to make it a lot harder for students to get higher education," WOU Senior Ami Diaz said.

PSU officials sent out a statement following the vote saying the school is facing a $20 million budget shortfall and with this decision, the campus will have to cut another $5 million, likely in programs and need-based scholarships, adding that while there are no “good options” they hoped the commission would reconsider the vote.Today’s vote by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission will mean deeper cuts this fall at Portland State that will impact our students. PSU faces a $20 million budget shortfall this fall, and the Board of Trustees last month unanimously approved a tuition increase combined with $9 million in cuts for next year to bridge the gap.Today’s HECC vote will mean an additional $5 million in cuts will have to be made to balance PSU’s budget. 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. There are no good options here, and we are asking the HECC to reconsider today’s vote.The HECC also did not approve the proposed 10.6 percent tuition increase for the University of Oregon but did approve the increases at SOU, Oregon Institute of Technology and Western Oregon University.

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