ASHLAND — Students on opening day of Southern Oregon University's fall term seemed resigned to a 5.4 percent increase in tuition, and school officials say enrollment appears to be growing despite the higher price tag.

ASHLAND — Students on opening day of Southern Oregon University's fall term seemed resigned to a 5.4 percent increase in tuition, and school officials say enrollment appears to be growing despite the higher price tag.

"You kind of expect to pay more," said Tomas Rosa, a senior in English education.

"I thought my financial aid would cover my rent for the term, but now it will be a month short. I work two part-time jobs. I was going to wean off work a little, but not now."

Rosa said job prospects after graduation aren't promising.

"When you hear about the recession, you know school is the best place to be. You just take it (increases) in stride and try to keep optimistic."

Natasha Sawall of Medford, a senior in history, is paying for college with loans and a little help from parents.

"I can pay for one term a year, not three," she said. "I don't shop at all, just food and dog food. I'm not confident about getting a job teaching after graduation. I'll probably sub (substitute teach) here."

The State Board of Higher Education in July set higher ceilings for tuition. The increase at SOU averages 5.4 percent, but that number escalates with higher credit loads to a cap of 9.3 percent. The tuition increases are a response to a decline of 10.7 percent in state support.

Kate McFarland, a freshman studying theater, found the tuition hikes "not a huge deal," but was wary of the likely increase in homework to come with the reduction of 11 days in classes for the 2009-10 school year.

Speaking for the Associated Students of SOU, communications director Brianna Heath said the tuition increase was necessary, but it means "a lot of students are struggling with it. It's several hundred dollars a year they have to pay and it's hard to get a job to make it up."

Creative writing senior Isabelle Szucs said the tuition jump "is hurting everyone" and is keeping her from buying books as early as she needs them.

"It's extremely frustrating," she said. "I'm going to have to pay so much more after graduation, but I'm also glad because it's a good investment. I'm going to go into advertising."

Nursing students and Rogue Valley natives Krystle Gutzman and Sarah Beskow said the boosts make it hard enough for them that they'd like to put in more hours at jobs, but can't because of the need to study.

"It's kind of frustrating. I'm going to graduate with about $25,000 in debts," said Gutzman. "Financial aid should be more accessible. I get almost nothing. All my money goes for school and food. I can't afford to live here, so I carpool from Grants Pass every day."

Beskow noted, "All the money I have goes to tuition — and they tack on a lot of fees, like the $280 incidental fee."

The two said they were looking forward to graduation, when nurses can expect plentiful jobs starting at $60,000.

Biology senior Megan Hartsell said tuition increases are preferable to firing teachers and deleting classes from the schedule, but the hike will add to her debt.

"I have to eat at home and bring my lunches. I have to be thrifty and not spend on anything — no more buying clothes and shoes," said Hartsell.

Mark Bottorff, director of admissions, believes the tuition increase was not prohibitive, though enrollment figures aren't firmed up yet.

"It didn't keep as many students away as we thought it might," said Bottorff. "It may have kept some at the top of the funnel (those thinking about applying) from actually applying. But we look pretty good. I think there will be an increase in enrollment, probably because of the economy. A bad economy pushes students into higher education."

The continuing improvement of enrollment numbers could be a result of a better-timed financial aid package or a continuing sour economy, he said.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.