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Tuition to rise 4 percent

As expected, Southern Oregon University increased its tuition Friday to cover rising medical, labor and retirement benefit costs.

Resident tuition will go up 4.22 percent for undergraduates and 2.14 percent for graduates. One credit for one term will be $172 for resident undergraduates and $430 for resident graduates.

For nonresidents, tuition will increase 3.95 percent for undergraduates (to $596 per credit) and 2.09 percent for nonresident graduates (to $538 a credit).

Tuition went up 9 percent last fall for the current academic year.

Friday’s vote of the SOU Board of Trustees was unanimous — and, after extensive involvement of students, faculty and staff in the move, the board had to take the step, said SOU President Linda Schott.

“It’s not something we enjoy doing but because of costs going up in retirement, health and personnel, we don’t have control of it,” said Schott. “It’s a necessary thing and we don’t want to reduce the labor force” to cover the increases.

State support for higher education has edged up, she said, but the way it’s awarded is not particularly favorable to SOU. With a statewide 10 percent increase in higher ed, SOU got only 2.4 percent, she said.

State support has dropped radically in the last 25 years, from 70 percent in the 1990s to 25 or 30 percent now, she noted, adding that, after a stringent program of cost control, “where we have the most influence is in more enrollment.”

Schott told the board that colleges that graduate the most students in the shortest time, a four-year regimen, are the colleges that are the most prosperous and have the most foundation donors — and that SOU Foundation provided $1.5 million this year compared with $1.3 million last year.

Another thrust in the direction of self-sufficiency through better enrollment is the Master’s in Business Administration program, set to be entirely online in April and intended for working career people in the valley. It’s subsidized in part by Asante and Lithia Motors and will aim scholarships at their employees, she said. SOU’s enrollment is trending upward because of the MBA program, while other regional state colleges, except Oregon Institute of Technology, are tapering down.

The big financial picture was drawn for trustees by SOU Associate Vice President for Budget & Planning Mark Denney. In an interview he said that, in real dollars, there was a big drop in state support during the Great Recession, then it flat-lined. But with recent improvements in state revenues, the funding formula benefits Oregon’s largest universities but slights regional schools, and “creates instability in the system and pulls money from the smaller universities.”

Mandatory fees were also increased — 4.37 percent for student incidental fees and 2.19 percent for student health fees. Recreation fees stayed the same.

Trustees also approved renovation of the popular Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for seniors, newly expanded to serve everyone.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.