UO tuition rise less than forecast

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University of Oregon students will pay $90 less in tuition and fees next school year than they were originally going to have to pay, the state Board of Higher Education decided Friday.

That's the trickle down from the $15 million the 2013 Legislature gave to the Oregon University System -- at its June 8 end-of-session — to buy down tuition on behalf of students.

The tab for tuition and fees is still going up by 4.9 percent over the previous school year, but that's better than the 5.8 percent that had been approved in June for the next school year.

"There's no lack of support for higher education in the Legislature — just a lack of money," Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said.

The state has steadily decreased its support for its universities over the past two decades until Oregon students pay the lion's share of the cost — 70 percent — while the state pays 30 percent, according to the Oregon University System.

Oregon is unusual in that way; it's ranked 44th nationally in per student spending, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

But Melody Rose, interim chancellor of the Oregon University System, issued a statement lauding the Legislature for passing the highest general university budget increase since 2007.

"Our hope, which I know we share with Oregon students and families, is that this is the beginning of a rebalance in the state-student share of college costs," her statement said.

UO students on campus on a sunny Friday afternoon weren't too impressed by the tuition buy down -- which reduces the $542 increase they were expecting next year by $90, to $452.

"That's it? Per person?" said Jamie Nordby, a 21-year-old accounting major. "That's terrible. I'm down 20 grand; $90 is nothing."

Nordby said she worries about the student debt she's accumulating "all the time. It's really stressful."

Sports journalism major Jack Czekanski, 21, tries not to think about student debt too much. "It just gets me nervous -- gets me worried about the future," he said.

The $90 would be about what he spends per month at the grocery store -- a pretty minimal bit of relief, he said.

"I'm going to college to better my education for the future, and I'm going to spend my career paying off loans that I used to pay for education. It's very worrisome," he said.

Sara Birns, a 20-year-old product design major, said she's lucky because her grandfather saved money to pay for her college education. She said her $90 savings would go toward rent.

"The rent here is extremely high," she said. She pays $647 a month, excluding utilities, she said.

The total tuition and fee bill for Ducks isn't dropping as much as the statewide average because the UO has unusually high mandatory fees.

"Keep in mind that the biggest fee increases were for redoing the Erb Memorial Union and the Student Rec Center," Beyer said. "(Students) voted for that."

A UO education is a good value, UO spokesman Phil Weiler said. For proof, he pointed to the recently published Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014.

The UO -- and also the Oregon State University -- made the Fiske list of 21 "best buy" schools, proclaiming that:

"UO may be the best deal in public higher education on the West Coast. Less expensive than the (University of California) system and less selective than the University of Washington, UO is a flagship university of manageable size in a great location."

The Legislature's last minute tuition gift, Weiler said, was a "very pleasant and unexpected surprise." Though modest, it will be a help to some students, he said.

"It's a month of groceries," he said. "It's a couple tanks of gas. There are students for whom that much difference will be important. There are people who are working hard and struggling to make sure they can continue to attend the university. Every little bit will help."Price break

The University of Oregon's tuition and fee increases next year will be a little less since the Legislature approved a $15 million tuition buy down for state universities.

Tuition & fees in 2012-2013: $9,310

Initially adopted tuition & fees for 2013-2014: $9,852, up 5.8 percent

Final tuition & fees with buy down for 2013-2014: $9,765, up 4.9 percent