State needs to step up for regional campuses

Southern Oregon University students will see a 4.22 percent increase in tuition next fall, along with a similar jump in required fees. The tuition increase is less than half of what students absorbed this school year, but it’s still unacceptable.

Oregon residents will pay $172 per credit per term next fall. Nonresident students will pay $596.

SOU trustees and administrators are not to blame for the increase. In fact, steps taken at the Ashland university have helped avoid bigger increases.

SOU’s Masters of Business Administration program, soon to be offered online, is helping to attract students. SOU President Linda Schott told the university’s trustees that increasing enrollment is the school’s best hedge against rising costs. Another area of emphasis is encouraging more students to graduate in four years. Colleges that are most successful in doing that are more prosperous and attract more support from their foundations, Schott said.

SOU also benefits from a larger number of out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition. That is partly the result of Ashland’s proximity to California, but SOU still must offer attractive programs to lure students.

One problem is a state funding formula that penalizes regional universities while benefiting the big schools — the University of Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State. SOU also receives less state funding because of its relatively larger percentage of nonresident students.

Schott noted that state support for higher education increased 10 percent this year, but SOU got only 2.4 percent. That needs to change.

The big universities are able to generate far more income from foundation fundraising and corporate donations than the regional campuses, but the regional schools offer some of the best value, with lower tuition and smaller classes. Southern Oregon’s legislative delegation should be working to secure better funding for SOU, and voters in this year’s legislative elections should ask candidates how they intend to address the issue.

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