Photo Courtesy of Ken Royce
Members of the Oregon State and House committees met last Friday in the Meese room of Hannon Library to discuss the governor’s budget and other issues of funding higher education in Oregon.
Amid Southern the Oregon University’s budget crisis, the Oregon State Senate and House committees gathered in the Meese room of Hannon Library last Friday to address plans for improving postsecondary education.
The committees’ agenda was to discuss two bills which would affect the process of Oregon building on its higher education practices.
House bill 2579 acknowledges the need to increase the number of directors appointed to the State Board of Higher Education. The committees said this increase would provide more insight and knowledge to create better provisions and bills for the state.
Senate Bill 334 described changing the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) to the Oregon Shared Responsibility Opportunity Grant (OSROG). The shared responsibility model would incur a four-step model to increase the affordability gap in Oregon’s higher education.
The first issue of SB 334 is the student share, the predicted amount of student contribution necessary to attend either a community college or four-year university in Oregon. The contribution would be $4,750 per student per year to attend a community college and $7,500 per student per year for a four-year university.
The second step is family share, the determined amount of contribution each family makes towards their student’s college funding. The amount is based upon income, attendance and family structure.
The third step is federal share, a need-based formula which generates money from the federal government to provide some or all of the family contribution.
The last step is state share, where the state will assist in contributing money only when the other steps don’t completely cover student’s needs.
The Shared Responsibility Model would progress over the next two years with a required state appropriation of $110 million which almost doubles the cost of maintaining the OOG over the past two years.
Oregon Chair Representative Peter Buckley started off the meeting by describing Southern Oregon University as a “canary in a coalmine.”
He said that rebuilding the Oregon University System will help stabilize SOU’s fiscal issues.
“I’m extremely proud of the progressive universities and colleges within the OUS but embarrassed at the ranking of our higher education funding,” Buckley said.
As Buckley described the stabilization, Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner discussed the plight and history of state funding.
Pernsteiner recollected the years of the great depression when the Oregon schools faced grim troubles but fought through, surviving.
He then described the 70s where students would pay $650 for a year of college. As the next thirty years proceeded, this tuition cost skyrocketed.
Pernsteiner then pushed forward to the state of today. “The more money we invest in our colleges, the better chances students have to achieve their degrees,” said Pernsteiner.
The chancellor then pointed out that students have been shouldering most of the costs for their education, a 20 percent difference between the state and student shares.
“We have put our students and families in an affordability freeze,” Pernsteiner said. “The ‘borrowing more, receiving less’ attitude shouldn’t be affecting our students today.”
After the brief history lesson, Margie Lowe, Policy Advisor of the Governor’s Office, discussed the new budget plans for the future.
Lowe said the governor’s budget plan revolves around an $8 billion estimate for 2007-09.
This estimate would impact many aspects of higher education funding in Oregon from capital construction projects and funding deferred maintenance to reducing student-faculty ratios and establishing a rural access initiative.
“This budget will be congruent across the entire education system,” Lowe said. “We want to create a road map for legislation to understand where to fund and when to do it.”
President Cullinan presented SOU’s case for help from the OUS.
She said that in balancing the lack of state funding, our university has been raising tuition.
“We were faced with a dramatic deficit and had to implement equally dramatic cuts and borrow from our fund balance to meet our bottom line,” Cullinan said.
She discussed how the university has been implementing changes through the energy conservation initiative, developing a one-stop enrollment center and the groundbreaking for the new RCC/SOU Higher Education Center.
Cullinan believes that all these components will create change and improvement to the SOU community.
“When I started at SOU, I had a vision,” Cullinan said. “That vision was to promote academic excellence and to support students who aspire to learn. We can never lose sight of the fact that we are here because of our students.”
After these presentations were given, public testimonies were read before the committee regarding higher education funding.
The first testimony was given by Wes Brain who stated that the environmental health and safety’s reductions in the provisional plan brings up the argument of the university being committed to maintaining a healthy and safe campus for its students. Brain created a petition against the termination of the Environmental Health and Safety Professional and Trades Maintenance Coordinator/Asbestos Supervisor positions. He presented President Cullinan with the petition that was signed by 329 students, faculty and community supporters.
One testimony by Donavan Grace Weil described her experience at SOU and the importance of the Geology programs.
She said that in many environmental and economic growth industries in Oregon today, the demand for college-educated employees is increasing.
“In the next three years, it is estimated that 87 percent of new jobs in Oregon will require a college degree,” Weil said. “Yet, we are cutting the funding to our university system which is crippling our ability to provide the necessary work force to attract new business to Oregon and shortchanging our current population.”
Associated Students of Southern Oregon University Director of Governmental Affairs Monique Teal provided her thoughts on the issue.
She said that legislators deal with a large number of issues, but the only way to really help a legislator understand how important an issue is, is to attach a face and a person to that issue.
She believes that actions such as attending the rally in Salem and sending 700 postcards to our legislators are two of the ways ASSOU and Oregon Student Association try to humanize issues.
“The governor’s budget is an excellent stepping stone after a decade of disinvestment in post-secondary education,” Teal said. “However, it is just the first step to making Oregon stronger. Oregon must continue prioritizing higher education to make sure that we can survive in an increasingly competitive workforce.”
Senior Ian Dooley, an Environmental Studies major, said in his testimony, “It is a shame that we have not built an infrastructure into our policies to better support education in Oregon. It is important to realize that a lack of funding represents three things: a disbelief in our hardest working and most inspired citizens, an incompetence to consider the current and future problems in our state and not having a respect towards the minds that may mitigate these problems.”
A testimony from SOU student Kathleen Garner described her concern for the university dropping to 46th in state funding for higher education. She said that in a recent OUS press release, 76 percent of students in Oregon are taking out loans, leaving them with an average debt of $17,772.
“I feel we need to support those making an effort to better themselves so they can serve America and the community,” Garner said.
SOU student Steve Ryan expressed his concerns about the alarming topic. Ryan said the state needs to invest in every issue from public transportation to health care because all these affairs are interconnected.
He believes that even though SOU is on the bleeding edge of this problem, other campuses will recognize the issue and push for better funding.
“If these legislators want to make a difference, it needs to happen now,” Ryan said. “Education is not a payment, it’s an investment.”