- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - After years of sharp tuition increases, Oregon undergraduates have finally gotten a break.

The state Board of Higher Education on Friday officially approved a tuition freeze for the upcoming academic year.

The freeze for in-state undergraduates resulted from last fall’s “grand bargain” between Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Legislature. Kitzhaber got more money for education while lawmakers won pension cuts for government employees and a bill that restricted most Oregon counties from regulating genetically engineered crops.

It’s the first time tuition has remained in check since 2001. Back then, it cost less than $4,000 in tuition and fees to attend one of Oregon’s seven public universities. The average has since jumped to more than $8,000 - far outpacing the rate of inflation.

“In the 90s, the students actually pushed a freezer down I-5 from Portland to Eugene, requesting that the Legislature freeze tuition, which they did,” said Jay Kenton, the interim president of Eastern Oregon University. “There were a number of years in the 90s where we had no tuition increases for resident, undergraduate students. But then we had large, double-digit tuition increases after that. It’s been kind of cyclical.”

The meeting marked the beginning of the end for the higher ed board, which will eventually cease to exist amid Oregon’s shake-up in higher education.

The University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University have established their own institutional boards, and those panels will approve tuition rates next year. The higher ed board will approve tuition for the other four universities in June 2015. The institutional boards to be formed at those schools will take that responsibility in 2016.

“I was hired by your predecessors on this board, and six months later the governor fired all of them; I’m sure those are unrelated events,” joked OSU President Ed Ray, who was hired in 2003 and is the longest-serving president in the university system. “It’s worth noting that none of you got fired for hiring my colleagues, so you obviously did a great job.”

Also Friday, the board extended Western Oregon University president Mark Weiss for one more year. He considered retiring, but agreed to stay on for 2014-15 as the school establishes its institutional board. The new board will have the power to hire and fire presidents.


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