Higher Ed Policy Basics: Five things to know about higher education policy and advocacy in Oregon. 

Are you curious about who makes decisions about higher education policy, what those decisions are, and how you can influence policy to support students and the UO? Here are five things to know about higher education policy and advocacy in Oregon. 

A yellow outline of the state of Oregon with a plus sign next to a graphic that depicts a public university. The university graphic has a plus sign on the other side followed by a graphic that depicts the US Capitol building.

1. The state and federal governments are integral partners to public universities like the UO. 

The federal commitment to the research university was established with the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862 and the Act to Incorporate the National Academies of Sciences in 1863. Post-World War II saw expanded research support and the development of a broad commitment to student aid with the passage of the GI Bill and later the Higher Education Act in 1965. Student aid and funding for research are the heart of the partnership between universities and the federal government.

The federal government is also partially behind UO's founding as Oregon's flagship public university. Back in 1859, Congress required Oregon’s founders to establish a public university. That university is us. Today, the Oregon Legislature determines funding for the higher education budget, which includes a small allocation for public universities. Due to decades of government disinvestment in public education, the UO now receives approximately 6% of its operating budget from the state government. The state higher education budget also includes funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state's largest need-based student financial aid program. 

2. Oregon has a unique system for coordinating activities between public universities. 

What the heck is the HECC? 

The State of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) is the primary state entity responsible for ensuring pathways to postsecondary education success for Oregonians statewide, and serves as a convener of the groups and institutions working across the public and private higher education arena. Established in 2013, the HECC is a volunteer commission appointed by the Oregon Governor and confirmed by the Oregon State Senate, with funding and policy responsibilities for higher education and the workforce statewide. 

3. Oregon doesn't invest as much in higher education and student aid as other states, and federal student aid falls short. 

The State of Oregon falls far behind other states when it comes to investments in public higher education and student financial aid. In 2019, Oregon's funding per student was well below the national average ($6,703 per student in Oregon vs. $8,196 for the US average), ranking 31st among the states. State financial aid funding per FTE student adjusted for inflation was $575 in 2019 in Oregon which is 29 percent below the national average of $808, and below Oregon’s funding level from a decade prior, $604. 

In 2021 the Oregon Legislature met public universities' funding requests for the Public University Support Fund and the Oregon Opportunity Grant, but it still isn't enough. Oregon students experience significant financial need. Send your legislators an email thanking them for making investments in public education and encouraging them to continue prioritizing public higher education. 

Federal student financial aid also hasn't kept up with inflation, and falls short for students with unmet need. The Pell Grant program is the nation’s foundational investment in higher education. Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low-and moderate-income students attend and complete college annually. That is 40 percent of undergraduates at U.S. colleges and universities. In 1980, Pell Grants covered more than 75 percent of the cost to attend a 4-year public university. Today the maximum award covers just 28 percent. Students and advocates are calling on Congress to double the maximum grant award. Doubling the maximum Pell Grant—and permanently indexing the grant to inflation to ensure its value doesn’t diminish again over time—will honor the history and value of these grants as the keystone federal investment in college affordability and help more students attend college, earn a degree, get a good-paying job, and ensure them a brighter future.

Learn more about efforts to double the Pell Grant here!

4. There are a lot of decision-makers who impact higher education policy. They aren't just on education committees! 

True or false: The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies impacts higher education. 

Answer: True! Colleges and universities are home to faculty and researchers who do groundbreaking research and scholarly work in a variety of disciplines, from the sciences to the arts and humanities. This means that committees engaged in appropriating or authorizing funds for research have an impact on institutions of higher education. For example, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies considers budget requests for: 

  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which supports seismic monitoring for volcanic and earthquake activity, including the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system operated in Oregon by the Oregon Hazards Lab in the Department of Earth Sciences at the UO
  • The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, which award grants to faculty and  programs such as UO libraries, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and the Oregon Folklife Network.

When you're advocating for the issues that matter to you, it's important to figure out who holds the levers of power. Here are a few state and federal committees that impact higher education funding and policy in Oregon: 

At the state level: 

At the federal level: 

5. Students and alumni are the best advocates for public higher education. 

It may surprise you, but studies show university presidents aren't the best advocates for their institutions when it comes to advocating for increased funding and policies to support students. The best advocates are students and alumni! That's why it is critical that UO alumni and students send emails, write letters, and show up (virtually and in-person) for meetings with legislators. Take action to support the UO by emailing your legislators today!

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  • Kimberly Koops