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Facing a projected budget shortfall of $12.7 million, the Oregon State University Board of Trustees voted at its quarterly meeting on Friday to raise undergraduate tuition by 4.29% for resident students and 3.81% for nonresidents at the Corvallis campus starting this fall.

The rates for graduate classes will go up as well, by 3.01% for residents and 4.99% for nonresidents.

The decision came over the protests of a number of students, who called on the board to find other ways to balance the university's budget during the meeting's public comment period.

Nuran Alteir, with a dozen fellow students in red shirts standing at her back, said raising tuition "sends the wrong message" at a time when administrators and faculty members are getting pay raises.

"There needs to be something done that doesn't put the responsibility for this on the backs of students," she said.

"There's other things we can do."

The trustees also heard objections to $7.5 million in budget cuts currently playing out on campus, the result of a tuition shortfall that occurred when 2018-19 enrollment at the Corvallis campus turned out to be lower than anticipated.

Erin Abernathy, president of the union that represents graduate student employees, told the board those cuts will result in larger class sizes, course cancellations and heavier workloads for graduate teaching assistants and adjunct professors.

She was joined by Darrell Ross, a professor in the College of Forestry, who urged the board to adopt a resolution calling on the Legislature to provide more funding for higher education.

Both the tuition hikes approved by the board and the projected budget deficit are based on an assumed increase of $40 million in state support to higher education over the next biennium as proposed by the co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

It’s possible that business tax proposals aimed at raising up to $2 billion in additional revenue for the coming biennium will provide some additional support for higher ed, but Jock Mills, OSU’s chief lobbyist in Salem, advised the board not to count on it.

A number of the trustees voiced deep misgivings about the tuition increase, acknowledging that low-income students are shouldering an increasingly heavy burden.

There was also discussion about whether the board’s policy of holding annual tuition hikes to 5% or less (in contrast to some other state schools in Oregon that have approved higher increases) was sustainable, given the potential impact that budget cuts could have on educational quality at OSU.

Only one board member — student representative Angel Mandujano-Guevara — spoke against raising tuition for 2019-20.

He said continually rising costs are pricing many Oregonians out of a college education, while a growing number of OSU students manage to stay in school only by couch-surfing, skipping meals or working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“We talk a lot about what we’re going to do next, but again, it’s all talk,” he said. “At this point, our state government has failed us as an institution.”

Mandujano-Guevara was the only board member who voted against the tuition increase.

For a full-time resident undergrad taking 15 credit hours in Corvallis, tuition will rise from $9,435 to $9,840 per year, an increase of $405.

For a full-time nonresident, tuition will increase from $28,365 to $29,445, a $1,080 hike.

At OSU's Cascades campus in Bend, full-time resident undergrad tuition will go up 4.44%, from $9,120 to $9,525 per year, a $405 increase.

A portion of the tuition increase will be set aside for increased financial aid.

Fees will also go up next year. Students on the Corvallis campus will pay $1,868.58 in mandatory and incidental fees next year, up from $1,775.91. On the Cascades campus, fees will rise to $1,113 from $1,038.

The trustees also approved a $6.2 million renovation of Merryfield Hall, a 27,000-square-foot building that serves the College of Engineering. Most of the funding — $5.9 million — will come from donations and college funds, with the rest from state-paid bonds.

Construction is scheduled to begin this spring and should be completed by summer 2020.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.


Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald