Southern Oregon University students, already facing an uphill battle against college debt, got a little break in the waning days of the Oregon Legislature's latest session. Tuition was set to increase 12 percent, but an additional infusion of funds made it possible for SOU to drop that to 9 percent.
In a letter Thursday to students and faculty, SOU President Linda Schott broke the “relatively” good news, adding, “Certainly, this year’s tuition increase remains extremely painful for all of us. It amounts to an additional $13.63 per credit hour for SOU students who are Oregon residents, and similar increases for non-residents.”
Schott said the school will get the least state funding of Oregon’s regional or technical universities, on a per-student basis.
This is because SOU, since it's near the California border, gets the most out-of-state students of any public university, and they pay considerably more, said Joe Mosley, director of community and media relations.
For a 15-credit full load, this increase adds $205 per term, $613 a year and $2,453 for a four-year degree. The original 12 percent hike would have added $18.17 per credit hour.
“I certainly recognize that a 9 percent tuition increase is a difficult burden for our students,” said Schott, “and one that in most other years would be hard for any of us to digest. But we built our budget for the coming year based on the likelihood of a state higher education budget that was $100 million short of the break-even level, adjusted for rising payroll and retirement costs that are beyond our control.
“That would have required the 12 percent tuition increase at SOU, given our lean operations and inability to make additional cuts without damaging the integrity of our academic and student support programs.”
Legislators infused the higher education system with an additional $70 million in its final days.
The allocation of the whole budget among the seven schools is the work of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
In her message, Schott said the SOU Athletics Department “won a reprieve” when the Legislature renewed Sports Action Lottery funding, which was stopped in 2005 when lawmakers shifted funding for college sports to the lottery’s general fund. Gov. Kate Brown did not include the funding in her initial budget recommendation, but the Legislature restored it late in the session.
SOU will get $500,000, with $360,000 earmarked for team travel. Some $100,000 will support institutional scholarships.
The Legislature also provided $6.1 million in bonding for renovation of the aging Central Hall. The funds will pay for seismic upgrades; an upgrade to heating, venting and air conditioning systems; some modernization; and strengthening of the sagging foundation. The floors now slope on a north-south axis, said Mosley.
It will also pay for reconfiguring the space left when Jefferson Public Radio moves to a new annex in the Theater Arts building, and reconfigure some large lecture spaces into “collaborative learning environments,” with tables, instead of “a lecture spot in front of rows of seats.”
SOU has recovered $609,000 of the $1.9 million stolen by “an imposter” in the spring when a construction project payment was diverted from its intended recipient. The recovered funds were left in the thief’s bank account. Working with the FBI, the school is exploring several channels to retrieve the rest of the money, which was transferred to the illicit account by posing as a contractor needing to be paid off on the athletic complex re-do. Insurance is expected to pay for some of the loss, said Mosley.
The loss won’t affect the project, students or staff programs and, said Schott, the school is “absolutely committed to determining how our processes can be strengthened so that SOU is "never again" a victim of such a scam.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.