High cost of learning

Southern Oregon University students are paying more for their college education again this year — about $8 more per credit hour, to be exact.

The 6.8 percent increase in tuition enacted last summer was necessary to counter a reduction in state funding, university officials said. A resident undergraduate taking 12 credits will pay $2,030 a term in tuition and fees.

The increase ensures SOU will have enough courses to meet student demand and continue all programs and services, officials said.

"Our state funds have actually been cut 27 percent in the last three years," said Jon Eldridge, vice president of student affairs, via email. "Tuition has been raised only 15 percent in the same time.

"This continued decline leaves only two options — increase tuition or reduce offerings," he added.

Eldridge said students were consulted before the decision was made, and that any future tuition increases would go through the newly formed Tuition Committee. Half of the sitting members on the committee are students.

Jazmin Roque is a sophomore theater major at SOU. She estimates that she will be $10,000 to $15,000 in debt by the time she graduates.

"It's inevitable that tuition is going to go up," she said. "That's the joke; as students, we're graduating with mortgage-sized loans and no houses."

She said the increase will impact first-generation and returning students at SOU.

"Everybody took a hit in this, but it was spread out enough that nobody got it really bad," she said. "Strategically, I think it was the right choice to make."

Emery Way graduated from SOU last spring with a bachelor's in history, and is currently about $20,000 in debt.

"I think history degrees are perfect examples of what's going on with degrees," he said. "A bachelor's in history is basically worth the same as a high school diploma. Basically the only way out is to get my master's and eventually get a teaching job or something.

"People are going to universities because they need to get a job, and staying there because there aren't any," he added.

Way believes that because most students have loans, they don't fully understand the situation they're in until it's too late.

"Because it's a loan-based system we have here, you won't see the fallout until later," he said. "It's just dumping more debt on students."

Way blamed the rising cost of higher education partially on universities' lack of autonomy within the Oregon University System.

"Schools are not treated as individuals," he said. "They are all associated with the OUS. While the fact that SOU itself is doing pretty well, enrollment figures have gone up, the school can't reap the benefits.

"Keeping the revenue internal would solve a lot of problems," he said. "You don't want to privatize universities, because they'll turn into business. But you have to face the fact that they're already being run like businesses, and we need to deal with that."

Nils Holst is an SOU student and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at holstn@students.sou.edu.

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