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Office of the President guest column

By: Rex Fuller
President of Western Oregon University

Recently, my letter providing background on the higher education funding process appeared in the Western Journal. As a reminder, we are facing a budget shortfall and are considering three areas in which to make up the financial gap: raising tuition, cutting budgets and tapping one-time reserve funds. Today, I’d like to look ahead to what the changing funding landscape could mean for students.

We are committed to doing everything in our power to restrict tuition increases. There has been extensive conversation in an attempt to limit the rise this year, with groups such as the Board of Trustees and the Student Tuition Advisory Committee weighing in on the discussion.

Although the state budget for the next biennium likely won’t be decided until July, it appears the Legislature is unlikely to provide anything close to the funds we’ve requested. This means tuition will increase between 5 and 10 percent, which is an additional $8 to $16 per credit hour for students on the Traditional Plan. Currently enrolled students on the Tuition Promise plan are unaffected.

Another part of our plan to offset budget shortfalls is cutting costs across campus. I have asked all departments to propose reductions of 5 and 10 percent, and these suggestions will be presented to the University Budget Committee. I view this as an opportunity for all department heads to reassess their expenditures, staffing levels and course offerings. Throughout the process, our focus will remain on our shared goal: seeing our students obtain their degrees and become valuable members of their communities.

In addition to making budget cuts, tapping our one-time reserve funds for 2017-2018 enables us to keep tuition increases at or below 10 percent.
Because using reserves is not a long-term solution, by 2018-2019 we must develop a budget that is structurally balanced and that does not rely on the continued use of one-time reserves.

Although these measures are unfortunate, I believe adjustments can be made without compromising the mission and strategic initiatives outlined in our strategic plan. Western will always put student success first, no matter what challenges we face.

Again, I invite all of our students to get involved in the fight for more budget dollars from the state and against tuition increases. If you are an Oregon resident, please contact your legislative representative to voice your concerns.

Joining our voices can make a difference for Oregon higher education because together we succeed.

Contact the author at president@wou.edu