Southern Oregon University students say they're frustrated over another tuition increase proposed for next school year.
Tuition advisory, budget and enrollment councils consisting of faculty, staff, students and administrators met Monday and recommended a 5.8 percent increase, meaning a student taking a full load of 15 hours would pay an extra $119 a term or $358 per year.
If approved, it would be at least the eighth year tuition has increased at SOU, according to numbers readily available.
Raising tuition again is "not going to work for students," said Jason Pennell, director of governmental affairs for SOU's student government — especially in light of a 9.9 percent increase last year. The student government's goal is for no tuition increase, he said.
The cost to attend SOU this year is $2,061 per term, not including $446 in mandatory fees. Tuition would increase to $2,180 next year under the proposal, which is still early in the approval process.
Administration officials said the increase is necessary to fund rising health care and retirement costs, supplement student financial aid, maintain facilities and cover inflation.
"Nobody wants to do this," said Jim Beaver, SOU's director of interactive marketing and media relations.
Several students voiced concerns Wednesday that ranged from finding a way to stay in school to facing excessive loan debt once they graduate.
"Personally, I'm on student loans," said first-year student Dahon Sestrich. "I'm going to have to pay that back eventually."
Sestrich said he will borrow more until he graduates, and then "hope for a job."
Amber Myer, a junior from Rogue River, said several of her friends have had to leave school because they couldn't afford it.
She said news of the possible tuition increase brought on a "here we go again" feeling.
"Every time we see that bill come in, that's so much money," Myer said.
Freshman Yahaira Padilla said the increase could cause her to change her college plans. Her schooling is funded by scholarships and grants, but if tuition rises too steeply, her financial aid may not cover it, she said. She may be forced to think about going to nearby Rogue Community College, she added.
"It's so high and keeps getting higher," she said.
Administration officials, including SOU President Mary Cullinan, point out that SOU has the second lowest tuition in the Oregon University System — only Eastern Oregon University is lower — and the proposed tuition increase is in line with what other schools are projecting.
OUS spokeswoman Di Saunders said less money from the state Legislature almost forces schools to increase tuition.
She said that 20 years ago, students paid 30 percent of tuition, while taxpayer money funded 70 percent. Now, those costs have been flipped — students are paying about 70 percent, and state funding takes care of 30 percent.
"That's a big reason … that's a big piece of it," she said.
Beaver said SOU will help lower-income students offset higher costs with Pell Grants, 50 more on-campus jobs and $200,000 more in tuition remissions that totaled $3.5 million this year.
The 5.8 percent increase is not yet official. State legislators are considering reforms for the Public Employees Retirement System and the Public Employees' Benefit Board that may make more money available for education and allow a smaller tuition increase, Beaver said.
Legislators could also decide to allocate more money to higher education, an idea college students from across the state, including those from SOU, will rally for at the Capitol on April 25.
"We really need to get our funding priorities straight," Pennell said.
Saunders said a drastic change in the tuition proposal is unlikely. She said sometimes the proposed increases will drop, but "they don't change really, really significantly" except for tweaks brought by the Legislature.
Cullinan will present the tuition committee's proposal to the Chancellor's Office, which will make sure it is within parameters set by the Legislature, Saunders said.
In June, final figures are sent to the State Board of Higher Education for approval.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at email@example.com.