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SOU requests 9.9% tuition increase

Southern Oregon University wants to increase tuition by nearly 10 percent next year to offset a $2.5 million budget shortfall, but it also proposes a reduction in student fees to help ease the pain.

"No one wants to see tuition rates rise," said Jon Eldridge, SOU vice president of student affairs. "Unfortunately, the reality of a continued significant disinvestment by the state means we're left with rising tuition and having to cut staff."

SOU turned in its proposed tuition and fees for next academic year to the Oregon University System last week, where it will be voted on by the State Board of Higher Education on June 8. The public can comment on the fee increases through May 16 by visiting www.dailytidings.com/2012-13-tuition.

SOU's requested 9.9 percent increase translates to an extra $12.40 per credit hour for resident undergraduate students. The current cost per credit hour is $125.

If the increase is approved, resident undergraduate students taking a full load of 15 credit hours next academic year would pay an extra $186, for a total of $2,061 per term, not counting fees.

Because SOU's proposed increase exceeds last year's budget note recommendation from the Oregon Legislature, which asked to be included in the discussion if any university proposed an annual tuition increase topping 7.5 percent, the state's Emergency Board will have a hand in allowing the increase.

If the State Board of Higher Education approves the increase, the Emergency Board will "mostly likely simply accept," said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who sits on the board.

The board doesn't have any authority to actually approve the increase, but it could hinder it, said Jan Lewis, OUS assistant vice chancellor for budget operations.

"The real problem SOU is facing is the fact the state has decreased our investment in higher education significantly," Buckley said. "The state's budget has been crippled by the recession."

Buckley said he met with administrators and students at SOU to discuss the proposed increase, and he felt the proposal was "in the spirit of the budget note."

"I appreciate the fact that students were involved," he said.

A reduction in student fees was hashed out between the SOU administration and the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University and approved by ASSOU prior to SOU submitting its proposal.

To offset the increase in tuition, said Eldridge, the university is proposing to reduce total student fees per term by 15.8 percent, or $84. Students will no longer be required to pay a health insurance premium through the school, but it plans to establish a separate money pool for providing its health services to students who have no other insurance source, said Eldridge.

SOU's Master of Education program may also see an 8.3 percent tuition increase next year. No rate increase is proposed for SOU's non-resident undergraduates, but resident graduate students may see a 2.9 percent increase.

"We're in a situation where we have to raise tuition," said Joshua Danielson, a junior business and administration major at SOU, who sits on the school's Student Fee Committee.

Danielson is also running to be next year's ASSOU president.

"I'm very passionate about this, and I won't let tuition go up again, but this increase is necessary," he said. "Tuition has to go up or we can't pay our bills."

Danielson said he plans to take students up to Salem to impress upon lawmakers that student voices must be taken into account when the state's budget is allocated.

This year, the school has laid off at least 12 staff members, including some adjunct professors.

"If we don't raise tuition, it means another million dollars in cuts," said Eldridge.

Despite record-breaking enrollment numbers at SOU this year and during the past few years, "the problem is, the state's allocation has gone down at a faster rate than enrollment has gone up," said Eldridge.

"With enrollment going up and us cutting, it comes to a point where you can't cut anymore, because it may start eroding the quality of the academic experience," he said.

Payne Smith, a freshman theater major at SOU, was on campus Monday encouraging students to support Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group with their student fees during voting this week.

"I think it's horrible, and that it should stop," said Smith, about the rising cost of tuition.

He said students don't think about the price they're paying for school now, but it will hit them when they have to pay back their loans after graduating.

"It's out-of-sight, out-of-mind for now," said Payne. "But when we get out of school, it's a huge impact on most all of us."

If tuition increases are approved at all the state's universities, SOU would remain the second cheapest to attend.

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

Payne Smith, a freshman theater major, was on Southern Oregon University’s campus Monday encouraging students to support Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group with their student fees. He says students don’t think about the price they’re paying for school now, but it will hit them when they have to pay back their loans after graduating. Jamie Lusch / Ashland Daily Tidings - Jamie Lusch