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State leaders propose reducing tuition hikes.

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

SALEM - In-state students at the University of Oregon might not face a double-digit tuition increase this fall after all.

In the waning days of the legislative session, Gov. Kate Brown and state lawmakers tentatively have agreed to allocate $70 million more to Ore gon's public universities than in the politicians' original proposed higher education budget for 2017-19.

The new money would come with a string attached: Five of Oregon's seven public universities would have to lower their planned tuition increases for the coming academic year by between 3 and 4 percentage points.

Under the plan, the UO could increase its in-state tuition 6.56 percent for the 2017-18 school year, rather than the 10.6 percent a state review panel recently approved.

Tuition increases similarly would be reduced to 5.5 percent at Portland State University, to 9 percent at Southern Oregon University, to 6.5 percent at Western Oregon University and to 5 percent at the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University, which plan to raise in-state tuition by less than 5 percent, would not face any mandate from the state about how to spend their share of the new money.

"Stabilizing tuition in the next biennium provides important relief to Ore gon's students, who already carry too much of the financial burden of higher education," Brown said. "Protecting affordability ensures that all Oregonians - particularly low-income students and students of color - have the opportunity to continue their education and earn a college degree on the path to a rewarding career."

The higher education budget bill, which will start moving through the Legislature on Wednesday, would provide $737 million in state money for public universities. That's $70 million more than in Brown's initial proposed budget, but less than the $100 million extra that the universities lobbied for.

Universities say they need the extra money to cover rising personnel costs for professors, administrators and other employees, including pay increases, the rising cost of health insurance and the sharply surging cost of paying into the state Public Employee Retirement System for pensions for current employees and retirees.

The UO has said that Brown's initial higher education budget essentially kept state funding for the UO flat, while personnel costs will be up $25 million for 2017-18. The UO said it had to impose the tuition increase to help raise that money.

The bill announced Tuesday also would send an extra $20 million to Ore gon's community colleges, for a full two-year allocation of $570 million.

Key lawmakers crafting the budget weren't available to comment Wednesday afternoon on where the extra dollars are coming from. State lawmakers have been trying to close a $1.4 billion budget hole in recent months and last week admitted defeat in their effort to pass a major corporate tax increase to bolster their budget.

The new higher education budget also would allocate $35 million for the Oregon Promise program, which provides largely tuition-free community college for in-state high school graduates.

But that's about $13 million less than what is needed to fully fund the program for the next two years. A small group of lawmakers are negotiating how they might tweak the program to trim its cost.

Similarly, the proposed budget would provide $24 million in lottery funding to a new outdoor school program that voters approved in November. That's about $20 million short of what is needed to fully implement the program.

For the UO, the extra money for public universities would translate roughly to an extra $10 million over the next two years over leaders' initial 2017-19 proposal. That would more than cover the cost of dropping the tuition increase by 4 percentage points for the coming school year, according to a UO spokesman.

UO President Michael Schill said Tuesday that the proposed new money would "bring critical tuition relief" and represents an "important step in the right direction" from legislative leaders.

"I hope it is a sign of the state's continuing commitment to supporting an excellent, accessible higher education system for all Oregonians," he said.

UO officials still are lobbying lawmakers for $100 million in state-backed bonds this year to help build the UO's new high-tech science campus.

But key lawmakers so far are favoring the governor's proposal to split the $100 million bonding allocation over the next three state budget cycles.
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Title Annotation:Oregon Legislature; A tentative deal would allocate an extra $70 million to slow the growth in student costs at five universities
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jun 28, 2017
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:Lawmakers approve $8.2 billion budget for public schools.

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