The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Board of Directors today approved a $2.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. One of the key initiatives included in the budget is a "tuition promise" – students enrolled in clinical programs will see no increase in tuition during the duration of their program. This promise covers 1730 students including current enrollees as well as those admitted to OHSU programs for the coming year.
"We as an institution are committed to helping our students fulfill their potential," said OHSU Provost Jeanette Mladenovic, M.D., M.B.A., M.A.C.P. "By freezing tuition for students in the majority of our programs beginning in Fall 2013, the tuition promise helps to lessen an already high debt load that students in health professional programs face upon graduation. We are excited to be able to offer this to students to ensure tuition stability for them during the course of their degree program at OHSU."
Currently, high tuition creates challenges for students who graduate with large debt burdens and wish to pursue practice in underserved or rural areas after graduation. Some students feel deterred from even applying to a health care education program because the expected debt makes their career choice seem out of reach. Another tool to address these issues is SB 2, recently passed by the Oregon Legislature. SB 2 establishes the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon program. OHSU will offer free tuition for up to 21 students across a variety of degree programs in exchange for their commitment to work in underserved areas – both rural and urban – after graduation. Students who sign up for Scholars for a Healthy Oregon would be making a commitment equal to the length of their studies plus one additional year.
Other tools OHSU has adopted to help address the problem include: 1) required financial management education and debt counseling for each student; 2) streamlining the process and increasing the resources available for grant programs; 3) $1.2 million in diversity awards instituted at the direction of the OHSU Board; and 4) steady growth in the size of endowment funds dedicated to scholarships.
OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A., said: "These tools are the embodiment of a persistent effort over several years to address the very difficult problem of student debt."
Addressing tuition and debt to encourage a robust and well-distributed health care workforce is vital as Oregon expects to enroll 400,000 new covered lives under Medicaid in 2014, once the federal Affordable Care Act comes into full effect.