Liz Avalos’ voice began to tremble when she testified to the Oregon University System about its proposed six percent tuition increase for next year. She broke down in tears when she spoke of her parents’ struggle to keep up with the rising costs and her fear that her younger brother would not have the chance to attend college. The board, however, showed no emotion during Avalos’ testimony. It couldn’t. Avalos was speaking to a laptop recorder, sent down to the University of Oregon from the OUS.
When students testified to the OUS this Friday in favor of freezing tuition next year, many expressed indignation at the lack of OUS board members present.
“I find it unnerving and quite telling that you are not sitting here talking to me today,” said Nick Hughes, one of the testifying students.
However, according to OUS spokesperson Di Saunders, OUS has always sent down a voice recorder and not a representative. Because board members are volunteers who have other full-time jobs, Saunders said they are unable to come down to Eugene to personally hear the testimonies.
Saunders said that Friday’s testimony was the first of many chances for students to voice their opinions to the OUS board. On May 24, and again on June 21, when board members make the decision on tuition rates, students have the opportunity to testify in front of board members in Portland.
“Sending the recorder is the actual formal, normal way. There’s never a board member at these,” Saunders said. “The purpose of this is to hear as many student testimonies as possible in a variety of formats. It would be great if a board member could be there, but that’s what May 24 and June 21 are for.”
Helena Schlegel, spokesperson for the testifying students and ASUO senator-elect, said that although the situation was not ideal, she hopes the students’ testimonies will make a difference in OUS’s decision whether to increase or freeze next year’s tuition.
“They were accommodating and our opinions will still be heard,” she said. “That’s what matters.”
According to Schlegel, it is important that the OUS board hear students’ struggles, as a 6 percent increase in tuition will have a huge impact on students.
“For a lot of these kids, this could be the difference for whether they can go to school next year,” Schlegel said.
The students’ testimonies have a large effect on the OUS board, according to Saunders.
“The voices of the students do have a large impact on everyone,” Saunders said. “The students are under a lot of pressure and everyone understands that.”
Despite the OUS’s awareness of the strain rising tuition places on students, the lack of state funding the system receives could prevent the possibility of a tuition freeze.
“The problem is that the OUS receives less from the state today than we did in 1999, and we have 34,000 more students than we did in 1999,” Saunders said. “That’s the crux of the problem.”
Universities are taking creative measures to keep tuition down despite the lack of state funding, Saunders said. In addition to offering scholarships, universities are working to recruit out-of-state students, whose higher tuition allows more in-state students to attend without increasing their tuition.
Even with these creative measures, students are still struggling. Schlegel, an out-of-state student, relies on scholarships to pay for her education. However, her scholarships are a set amount that will not increase when tuition does.
“I know my scholarships won’t increase,” Schlegel said. “I definitely will have to consider taking up another job. That money is going to be coming out of my pocket.”
Saunders emphasized that the OUS cares greatly about the opinions and situations of students, and she hopes for a lower tuition increase than in previous years. However, without more funding from the state, she says a tuition freeze would be difficult.
“I don’t know if it’s possible,” she said. “We haven’t seen a freeze in a long time.”
Nevertheless, students shared their struggles with rising tuition in their testimonies to the board and hope that it makes a difference.
“You are limiting me out of an education, along with thousands of other young Oregonians,” freshman Rudy Zarosinski said in his testimony. “All we wish for is a 0 percent increase for one year. Is that so much to ask?”