Personal stories from college students about the effects of high textbook prices and annual tuition increases send a clear message to Oregon, according to representatives of Associated Students of Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Student Association.
“The situation today isn’t the same situation faced by other generations,” says Jazmin Roque, an OSA representative who organized a series of story-collecting workshops on campus. “The current situations are not similar at all to legislators’ own past experience.”
OSA and ASSOU are encouraging students to continue sharing their stories of how they have personally been affected by cuts to higher education, in order to help Oregon legislators more clearly see the consequences of the budgets they are working on.
In addition to collecting personal stories from students affected by budget cuts to higher education, representatives of the OSA and ASSOU will be speaking with state senators directly in Salem this month to address directly the burden placed on education by financial disinvestment, and to propose House Bill 4058, which would require the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to draft regular reports on the average costs of textbooks.
“This is a step in the right direction, because this will lay the groundwork for future fights to really get at the costs of education,” said Jake Falldorf, ASSOU secretary of governmental affairs and member of the OSA board of directors. “The administration doesn’t want to raise our tuition any more than we want to have it raised. The state level is putting them in a position they don’t want to be in.”
The SOU administration has proposed an increase of its reserve budget from the mandatory five percent of their total operating budget minimum to ten percent. This means the university would have to have 10 percent of their operating budget on hand at all times. In exchange, the student incidental fee would be lowered by $70 to offset the 10 percent increase. This deduction translates to a forty percent deduction overall in student fee budgets.
Oregon’s high unemployment rate creates a massive deficit due to the state’s heavy reliance on the income tax, and this exacerbates an already existing trend of disinvestment to education, which began almost two decades ago.
The negative effects on enrollment caused by increased tuition costs have compelled SOU to cut funding in the past, especially to the athletics department, in order to offset this increase. SOU’s student fee is still one of the highest in the state, and ASSOU is now placing an emphasis on discouraging infighting between the university administration and the students.
“The last thing anybody at this school wants to happen is a fight between students and administration,” said Falldorf. “Doing so harms the soul of SOU. We want to avoid a civil war, because it would prevent our ability to work at the state level.”
“Students need to make the legislature see the value of higher education and how it makes Oregon better,” he added. “Students need to get registered to vote, call legislators, lobby, whatever they can do. We need to reclaim our importance.”
The OSA represents over 100,000 students statewide with three governing boards. In addition to its general Board of Directors, the OSA includes the Oregon Students of Color Coalition and the Oregon Students Equal Rights Alliance. While the latter two boards specialize in social justice issues, all three are working actively to address and resolve budget cuts to education.