PORTLAND, Ore. The University of Oregon and Eastern Oregon University have an “energy surcharge.” Portland State’s got a “student services” fee. And every university in the state tacks on a little extra for the privilege of using the school’s computer system.
Such fees have exploded in Oregon in recent years, as state support for higher education declined, and the seven public universities looked for ways to make up the gap.
This week, the state Board of Higher Education will get the first look at a plan to eliminate such fees for undergraduates within three to four years.
Student leaders praise the idea, but some university administrators including Dave Frohnmayer, the president of the University of Oregon have argued against blanket changes, saying universities need financial flexibility.
Collegiate fees exist in most states, according to a national survey done this year by the Oregon Student Association. Most often, they are associated with particular courses. Science majors, for example, are charged when their courses require pricey equipment.
Oregon has seen a rapid growth in such fees. In the 2000-2001 school year, there were only 18 fees associated with particular courses or majors; by the 2007-2008 school year, there were 75 such fees systemwide.
At the University of Oregon, that translated to $13 million in revenue in fiscal year 2007; at Oregon State, it was $12.4 million.
Fed up, students pushed a bill aimed at curbing the fees during the 2007 legislative session. That attempt was shelved after university officials agreed to set up an interim task force on the topic.
The new plan is the result.
Under the plan, students won’t get back the money they’ve already paid in fees.
Instead, the fees will largely be rolled into tuition, and listed in advance, with the aim of future financial aid packages taking the full costs into account.
“It’s an issue of transparency” said Emily McLain, the student body president at the University of Oregon, who also served on the task force. “Extra fees being tacked on after financial aid awards are sent out makes students take out emergency loans, or else they aren’t able to afford the cost of tuition.”
Universities will still be allowed to charge more for certain classes or majors. But such charges would be stated up front, billed as “differential tuition.”
Under the proposal, some of the revenue generated would be reserved to cover the costs of students who want to take the more expensive classes, but can’t afford the extra fees.
“We thought it was really important that students didn’t decide their major based on what it would cost,” said Monique Teal, a student from Southern Oregon University who worked on the proposal.
Frohnmayer, a former state Attorney General, told the state board last month that the University of Oregon needs more control over its own financial destiny, in order to maintain quality and attract top-tier faculty and students.
“We absolutely support clarity and transparency in the fees we charge,” said Frances Dyke, vice president for finance and administration at the University of Oregon. “But the institutions do need the ability to tailor tuition and fee schedules to their particular programs. One size does not fit all.”
Jay Kenton, vice chancellor for finance and administration for the Oregon University System, said the changes should give universities more flexibility in tuition proposals, since fees are off the table. And he said the legislature could have forced a cutback in fee levels, which the new proposal would preclude.
The plan going in front of the higher education board will need to be reviewed by the legislature. That could come when the body meets in February.
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