SALEM — The presidents of Oregon universities are pledging to limit tuition hikes if the Legislature agrees to boost higher education funding over the next two years.
University administrators have spent most of the year pushing aggressively for a two-year budget of $755 million, which they say would restore their funding to roughly the level it was at in 2007 without adjusting for inflation. Their funding request is $85 million more than legislative budget writers initially proposed.
If they get their way, the universities are promising to spend the additional money on initiatives that help more students graduate at a lower cost. That includes lower tuition for students that need it, more advisers and faculty.
The proposal "would give students and legislators some security that the money would be spent very directly in a way to increase student success," Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, said Monday. "We are very hopeful that with that kind of a certainty, the Legislature would use some of that additional money that is available to provide more funding for the universities."
The universities have outlined a plan for legislative budget writers that increase their budget In two increments. They're seeking an additional $35 million now, and if the economy continues boosting state tax collections, another $50 million to be allocated next year.
If all the money comes through, five universities promise to limit tuition hikes in the 2016-2017 school year to 2 percent. Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon universities, which are facing severe budget crises, would be slightly higher. Without the additional money, tuition hikes would likely be closer to 4 percent, Wiewel said.
Aside from the tuition limits, each school has different plans for how to spend the money. Their proposals include hiring more academic advisers to help students stay on track toward graduation, or targeting scholarships for lower-income students who are at risk of dropping out because they can't afford the cost.
The latest revenue projection, released last month, was up $460 million from the estimate in the prior quarter.
Democratic Rep. Peter Buckley, co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, declined to say whether the budget panel is likely to grant the universities their request, citing an agreement with Senate co-chair Richard Devlin not to talk publicly about their deliberations.
But Buckley said he and Devlin have asked the university administrators to commit to specific achievements if they get additional money.
"We are asking, 'If we can get more money into your budget, what can we expect in terms of the goals we're after?'" Buckley said.