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State panel approves SOU tuition hike

A 12 percent tuition hike at Southern Oregon University was approved Thursday by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, meaning the increase can take effect for the 2017-18 tuition school year as requested by the SOU Board of Trustees on April 21.

“I truly appreciate the ability of HECC members to grasp the nuances of our recent budget- and tuition-setting process, and to understand the swell of energy and passion on our campus,” said SOU President Linda Schott, who was in Salem to present the university’s tuition plan to commissioners.

The HECC vote finalizes a months-long process by students, staff, faculty members and others to work collaboratively through a budget cycle that was deeply affected by the state’s $1.4 to $1.6 billion funding shortfall.

The HECC must approve tuition increases above 5 percent for any of the state’s seven public universities. Gov. Kate Brown laid out strict criteria that the universities had to meet this year as justification for increases over 5 percent, and the commission approved rates today for SOU, OIT and WOU. Tuition rates for PSU and UO did not receive sufficient votes for approval, and OSU and EOU did not require HECC approval for tuition increases below 5 percent.

SOU’s tuition has risen by an average of 2.5 percent annually over the past four years, and the university currently operates on less revenue than any other public university in Oregon, on a per-student basis. SOU’s tuition increase will result in an additional $18.17 per credit hour for SOU students who are Oregon residents, and similar increases for non-residents.

President Schott said the university has tried to address some of those concerns by offsetting the tuition increase with $500,000 in additional institutional aid for students least able to afford the increased cost.

SOU has made $14 million in cuts over the past three years as part of its retrenchment process. Any additional cuts would significantly erode the university’s academic and student support programs, the university said in a prepared release.

Tuition at SOU will remain among the lowest of Oregon’s seven public universities. The overall cost of attendance — a combination of tuition, student fees and housing — will go up by about 5.8 percent.