CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will eliminate "tuition plateau" charges for students taking between 13 and 16 credit hours beginning in the fall of 2005, OSU President Ed Ray announced to the campus on Monday.

The decision came after weeks of meetings with the Associated Students of OSU, other student groups, the university's faculty senate and other campus leadership.

In his note to students, faculty and staff, Ray pointed out that eliminating plateau charges will create a funding gap of between $2.4 million and $4 million for the next biennium. The state also faces a projected shortfall of up to $1 billion that the legislature will begin addressing in January.

"The arguments for eliminating the plateau charges are sufficiently compelling that we are convinced that this is the right way to go for Oregon State University," Ray said.

Historically, students taking less than 12 hours were considered part-time students, while those taking 12 or more hours were "full-time," and paid a flat rate for tuition. In recent years, however, all of the institutions within the Oregon University System implemented tuition plateau charges for each credit hour above 12.

OSU implemented a $25 a credit plateau charge during winter term of 2004, and had proposed charging $50 for each credit hour above 12 beginning this fall. But students argued for elimination of the plateau charges - not only because of the financial strain, but because it was a disincentive for academic exploration, Ray said. The university postponed raising the charges, and now plans to eliminate them.

"We are concerned that students are not as willing or able to take courses outside of their major and to get the broadest possible education," Ray said. "Exploring new areas is part of what makes a well-rounded student, regardless of whether you are majoring in engineering, forestry or liberal arts."

Students also said they were less likely to get involved in low-credit courses, especially those involving physical education, leadership and service. Among those activities are student government, other leadership activities, and student media.

"The tuition plateau is a tool that enables students to receive a well-rounded education by taking classes outside their major, exposing them to new educational avenues," said Kristen J. Downey, ASOSU president. "This is a step forward for everyone at OSU."

Under the new proposal, which must be approved by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, OSU students will pay a per credit fee - currently at $108 - for each credit hour from one to 12. The rate for 13-16 credit hours per term will equal that of 12 credit hours. Students taking more than 16 hours will be charged an additional $108 for each credit hour over 16.

Ray said OSU will work to maintain availability of course offerings despite the funding gap.

"While this action clearly compounds our financial difficulties," he said, "I hope that it strengthens the sense of common cause and a willingness to work together among students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of this university to increase our financial resources and advance our strategic plan." Ray said the costs of eliminating the plateau charges will be absorbed by a combination of last year's tuition increases and cuts to the university budget in the upcoming year. The decision assumes a 5 percent tuition increase for next year and no reduction in state funding to higher education.

"If the funding is reduced, we may have to defer implementation of the plateau at least one year," Ray said, adding that the university leadership will work with the Ways and Means Committee throughout the legislative session.

"This decision is not intended to reflect on decisions at other universities," Ray said. "This simply reflects the belief that in our campus culture, the availability of the plateau is sufficiently important to faculty, staff and students to warrant the decision to eliminate those charges for credits between 13 and 16 hours and to manage the reduction in revenue that will result."

Ray said the decision is one of several the university must make relating to tuition and budgets. He said OSU will begin a conversation about resource fees for students before the end of spring term.

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Ed Ray, 541-737-4133