Latest news from the UO

  • What were Neil Armstrong's famous first words on the moon?

    First published on July 16th in Around the O. On July 20, 1969, an estimated 650 million people watched in suspense as Neil Armstrong descended a ladder towards the surface of the Moon. As he took his first steps, he uttered words that would be written into history books for generations to come: “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Or at least that’s how the media reported his words. But Armstrong insisted that he actually said, “That’s one small step for a man.” In fact, in the official transcript of the Moon landing mission, NASA transcribes the quote as “that’s one small step for (a) man.” As a linguist, I’m fascinated by mistakes between what people say and what people hear. In fact, I recently conducted a study on ambiguous speech, using Armstrong’s famous quote to try to figure out why and how we successfully understand speech most of the time, but also make the occasional mistake. Our extraordinary speech-processing abilities Despite confusion over Armstrong’s words, speakers and listeners have a remarkable ability to agree on what is said and what is heard. When we talk, we formulate a thought, retrieve words from memory and move our mouths to produce sound. We do this quickly, producing, in English, around five syllables every second. The process for listeners is equally complex and speedy. We hear sounds, which we separate into speech and non-speech information, combine the speech sounds into words, and determine the meanings of these words. Again, this happens nearly instantaneously, and errors rarely occur. These processes are even more extraordinary when you think more closely about the properties of speech. Unlike writing, speech doesn’t have spaces between words. When people speak, there are typically very few pauses within a sentence. Yet listeners have little trouble determining word boundaries in real time. This is because there are little cues – like pitch and rhythm – that indicate when one word stops and the next begins. But problems in speech perception can arise when those kinds of cues are missing, especially when pitch and rhythm are used for non-linguistic purposes, like in music. This is one reason why misheard song lyrics – called “mondegreens” – are common. When singing or rapping, a lot of the speech cues we usually use are shifted to accommodate the song’s beat, which can end up jamming our default perception process. But it’s not just lyrics that are misheard. This can happen in everyday speech, and some have wondered if this is what happened in the case of Neil Armstrong. Studying Armstrong’s mixed signals Over the years, researchers have tried to comb the audio files of Armstrong’s famous words, with mixed results. Some have suggested that Armstrong definitely produced the infamous “a,” while others maintain that it’s unlikely or too difficult to tell. But the original sound file was recorded 50 years ago, and the quality is pretty poor. So can we ever really know whether Neil Armstrong uttered that little “a”? Perhaps not. But in a recent study, my colleagues and I tried to get to the bottom of this. First, we explored how similar the speech signals are when a speaker intends to say “for” or “for a.” That is, could a production of “for” be consistent with the sound waves, or acoustics, of “for a,” and vice-versa? So we examined nearly 200 productions of “for” and 200 productions of “for a.” We found that the acoustics of the productions of each of these tokens were nearly identical. In other words, the sound waves produced by “He bought it for a school” and “He bought one for school” are strikingly similar. But this doesn’t tell us what Armstrong actually said on that July day in 1969. So we wanted to see if listeners sometimes miss little words like “a” in contexts like Armstrong’s phrase. We wondered whether “a” was always perceived by listeners, even when it was clearly produced. And we found that, in several studies, listeners often misheard short words, like “a.” This is especially true when the speaking rate was as slow as Armstrong’s. In addition, we were able to manipulate whether or not people heard these short words just by altering the rate of speech. So perhaps this was a perfect storm of conditions for listeners to misperceive the intended meaning of this famous quote. The case of the missing “a” is one example of the challenges in producing and understanding speech. Nonetheless, we typically perceive and produce speech quickly, easily and without conscious effort. A better understanding of this process can be especially useful when trying to help people with speech or hearing impairments. And it allows researchers to better understand how these skills are learned by adults trying to acquire a new language, which can, in turn, help language learners develop more efficient strategies. Fifty years ago, humanity was changed when Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the Moon. But he probably didn’t realize that his famous first words could also help us better understand how humans communicate. —By Melissa Michaud Baese-Berk, associate professor, Department of Linguistics

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  • Universities leave Salem with some wins, some plans to try again

    First published in Around the O. The state’s recently concluded legislative session may be remembered most for the partisan politics that dominated its final days, but the UO and students in higher education will see some positive outcomes. The Public University Support Fund, which funds Oregon’s seven public universities, was increased by $100 million, or 13.6 percent, to a total of $836.9 million. That is the second-largest increase in a single session since 1999. The funding will help universities partially cover rising costs and keep tuition increases for Oregonians lower than they would have been otherwise. The increase brought the UO’s resident tuition increase down to 6.91 percent from 9.6 percent, or a $675 total annual increase for students taking 45 credits a year. And the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state’s primary need-based financial aid program for resident college and university students, increased by $12.5 million, or 8.6 percent, which will allow the grant to serve approximately 2,500 more students across the state. Another success was a new $10 million University Research Innovation Fund administered through the Oregon Business Development Department. The fund will match competitive federal research awards, leveraging federal grants that require matching funds and supporting innovation and research capacity. Grants will be targeted in priority industries, such as advanced manufacturing, high technology, outdoor gear and apparel, health care innovation, food and beverage, and forestry and wood products. Research and innovation faculty members and staff played a key role in lobbying for the fund, as did staff at the business development office. “The University Research Innovation Fund is a good example of how sometimes it takes more than one session to get an idea cross the finish line, especially if it has a price tag attached,” said Libby Batlan, associate vice president for state and community affairs. “We introduced this concept in 2017, and while it was well received, it was not funded. We worked throughout the interim and came home with a win this time around.” Lawmakers also funded deferred maintenance projects at $65 million, which will help make sure buildings and classrooms on campus are safe and up to date. Capital projects, including the UO’s renovation of Huestis Hall, will be on the agenda for funding in the 2020 session. The Legislature has approximately $315 million of bonding capacity to distribute in February. State programs experienced a small increase in funds, including clinical legal education and the Dispute Resolution Program, Labor Education Research Center and TallWood Design Institute. A law, House Bill 2030, was passed making the UO eligible to apply for seismic rehabilitation grants. The campus veteran’s grant program, which provides funding for UO’s veteran’s service officer within the Division of Student Life, was renewed. The $54,000 grant the university currently receives from this program funds a half-time program coordinator, additional computers and technology, expanded student veteran engagement events and increased veteran welcome sessions. Despite efforts by UO faculty members, students and staff who testified before various legislative committees, a number of bills did not pass that would have funded programs and initiatives to help Oregonians statewide. All the measures were unanimously approved by the House and Senate education committees but did not make it out of the ways and means process. Those measures include funding for a new ocean-going research vessel for UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; a matching fund that could enable communities in rural areas to participate in the Sustainable City Year Program; funding for the UO’s prison education program through the Clark Honors College; and $12 million for the build-out of Oregon’s portion of the multihazard sensor network for the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning and wildfire prevention system. “These are incredible projects and programs from UO faculty members and students, and we believe that they are of value to the state,” said Hans Bernard, assistant vice president for state affairs. “While it’s disappointing they weren’t funded this session, we won’t give up on making sure lawmakers understand their value and will be back in future sessions.” The Legislature will convene again in February 2020. For more detailed information about all the measures that passed that will have an impact on the UO, read the end of session report on the Government and Community Relations Web site

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  • 2019 Legislative Session Overview

    2019 Legislative Session Overview In the November 2018 General Election, Democratic candidates in Oregon won supermajorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. The electoral victories paved the way for an ambitious progressive agenda for the 2019 legislative session. Despite all of this, legislation to make Oregon just the second state in the nation to cap greenhouse gas emissions failed in the final week of session. This was seen as a major defeat for Democratic majorities and Governor Kate Brown and will likely be top of the agenda when lawmakers return to Salem in 2020. Outcomes for Higher Education: $100 million increase in the Public University Support Fund: This is the second largest increase since in the PUSF since 1999. The increase helped universities partially cover rising costs and kept tuition increases for Oregonians lower than they would have been otherwise. An increase to the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) to serve 2,500 more students: The OOG is the state’s only need-based financial aid program for university students. $10 million for a new University Research Innovation Fund: This two-year effort to secure matching funds for federal grants will help our faculty members more aggressively compete for federal grants and advance research at the UO. $65 million in deferred maintenance capital funding: This funding will help make sure our buildings and classrooms on campus are safe and modern. The funds are distributed to all public universities based on a formula, largely driven by square footage of buildings. Small increases in funding for all State Programs, which include the Clinical Legal Education, the Dispute Resolution program, the Labor Education Research Center, and the TallWood Design Institute. Passage of a law that makes the UO eligible to apply for seismic rehabilitation grants. Expansion of the campus veteran’s grant program, which provides funding for UO’s veteran’s service officer within the Division of Student Life. What Else Happened? Heading into session, lawmakers’ attention was split between the normal legislative processes and grappling with how to respond to issues related to the culture of harassment and discrimination in the Capitol, especially as it relates to gender. The Senate President and Speaker of the House appointed a joint Capitol Culture Committee to examine how to address problems and make the capitol a safer place to work for legislators, staff, and lobbyists. Ultimately, several bills passed that establish new protections for those in the Capitol and regulations for employers that include a requirement they adopt comprehensive policies on workplace harassment and sexual assault (SB 726, SB 478, and SB 479). Early in session, the Legislature passed a statewide rent control measure (SB 608)—the first of its kind in the nation. The bill puts a cap on rent increases on most properties at seven percent a year and requires landlords to give three months' notice and pay a tenant a month's rent to evict them without cause. This was a major win for affordable housing advocates who had introduced the concept for several sessions while realtors were able to hold it back. Revenue reform was front and center all session long, as the Joint Committee on Student Success brought its work and recommendations from the last twelve months to bear. In April, the measure—dubbed the Student Success Act (HB 3427)—passed the House. As it made its way to the Senate for a vote, Oregon’s Senate Republicans walked out for the first time during the session. The strategy of denying a quorum effectively means the Senate cannot legally come into session and vote on bills. As a result, they slowed down the process enough to make a deal that killed two legislative priorities for Democrats: A bill that would require safe storage of firearms among other new regulations on guns (SB 978), and one that would abolish the non-medical exemption for child vaccinations (HB 3063). Both measures garnered huge engagement from members of the public both in support of and opposed to legislation. The Senate passed the Student Success Act and sent it to the Governor for her final signature. The measure established a new corporate activities tax, which will raise $2 billion each biennium that is dedicated to early childhood and K12 schools. It should be noted that students at community colleges and public universities were wholly excluded from receiving any of the funds. In the final days of the session the Legislature approved SB 116, which stipulates that any referral of the Student Success Act will be before voters in January 2020, not the November 2020 General Election. In May, the Legislature took up juvenile justice reform (SB 1008). The bill made changes to Measure 11, which caused people as young as 15 to be charged and sentenced as adults. A broad coalition worked to shift the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation for youth, including eliminating life sentences without parole for youth. The bill also establishes a process where all youth who are convicted in adult court access to a “second look” hearing, and more. The last month of session was consumed with negotiations and debate on several other key issues. A Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (HB 2005) passed after negotiations and input from the business community, which creates a new statewide insurance program for all employees. The program will be funded through an employer and employee payroll tax. Lawmakers also referred a tax increase on tobacco products and created a new tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products (HB 2270). It will be referred to voters for their approval in the November 2020 election and is expected to raise $340 million for the 2021-23 biennium. This funding will be dedicated to the Oregon Health Plan (90%) and tobacco cessation efforts (10%). The last week and a half of session created national headlines. The eleven Senate Republicans once again denied the Senate a quorum by not appearing on the floor and leaving the state to avoid voting on the cap-and-trade bill, known as ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ (HB 2020) because of its impact on rural industry and citizens. After several protests and a walk out that lasted nine days, the Senate President announced that the bill did not have the votes to pass. Ultimately, the Republicans returned to the Capitol two days before the legislature had to adjourn and passed a series of state agency budgets and policy bills. The 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly adjourned sine die on June 30, 2019.

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  • UO architecture professor testifies to Congress

    On Tuesday, June 11, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. The subject of the hearing was energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings. The hearing was conducted, in part, to evaluate the progress being made in federal building efficiency and resiliency by the General Services Administration (GSA), which implements executive regulations governing the acquisition, use, and disposal of real property owned by the federal government. Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-NV) led the hearing by emphasizing the importance of developing “smart and secure” buildings. “This is a chance to look at the past accomplishments, the present situation, and our future goals,” said Titus. Along with the testimony by the GSA regarding the present state of energy efficiency and resiliency in federal buildings, Van Den Wymelenberg was joined by other two panelists who testified on current innovations being made to improve building health and efficiency. Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, described the Institute's development of an academic-industry partnership known as Build Health. Build Health considers the intersection of energy efficiency and other factors in buildings and human health. Van Den Wymelenberg emphasized how indoor environments can negatively impact human health outcomes, and suggested that the subcommittee adopt a vision of “passive thrive-ability”. “Passive thrive-ability”, Van Den Wymelenberg said, encompasses “environments that improve human productivity and health outcomes while using less energy and approaching net-zero energy performance.” In closing, Van Den Wymelenberg suggested that the subcommittee consider setting goals that are currently implemented at the University of Oregon through a program called BTUs 4 BTU’s, or Building Tune-Ups for BTUs (energy). He explained the approach as a way to capitalize on the investments in energy efficiency, document the energy savings from strategies implemented, establish reinvestment mechanisms to implement deeper energy efficiency and human health strategies, and research the non-energy benefits of health and comfort. Van Den Wymelenberg finished his time with a comment that elicited laughs from the committee when he said that his consortium of industry collaborators, Build Health, is “founded on the principle that academics don’t know everything.” Full Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) joined the hearing and emphasized the bipartisan interest in promoting efficient resilient federal buildings. A copy of Van Den Wymelenberg’s written testimony can be found here.

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  • Oregon Legislature approves bill making changes to PERS

    First published in Around the O on June 3rd. The UO’s Office of Human Resources is providing information about legislation recently approved by state lawmakers that makes changes to the Public Employees Retirement System. The Oregon Legislature recently approved Senate Bill 1049, and the bill has been sent to Gov. Kate Brown to sign. The new legislation contains several provisions, with varying effective dates, related to benefit modifications and system financing. The HR website provides more information about the development, including a summary of SB 1049. The bill includes a number of changes for PERS employers and members that will occur in the future. If the bill is approved by the governor, PERS will continue to analyze the bill and prepare to fulfill its requirements. PERS provides updates on its website and will provide more information about the implementation of SB 1049 as it becomes available. PERS members can sign up on the PERS website to receive email or text alerts about the legislation. “Changes to PERS generates a lot of discussion and elevates concerns,” said Cindi Peterson, associate director of benefits. “It is important for PERS members to verify information they receive and seek clarification from trusted resources before making any decisions about retirement. The benefits office and PERS representatives are available to answer questions and discuss individual concerns.” While the benefits office cannot specifically advise individuals on how proposed or approved changes may affect their retirement benefits, they strongly encourage PERS members to stay informed, get a PERS estimate and meet with a financial advisor. Visit the HR website for more information. The benefits office will continue to monitor PERS-related issues and changes closely and provide information and resources as they become available. For questions or additional assistance, contact the benefits office at 541-346-3085.   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/oregon-legislature-approves-bill-making-changes-pers/?utm_source=UOnews  

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  • UO-led study finds early indicator of an earthquake’s magnitude

    First published in Around the O on May 30th. University of Oregon researcher Diego Melgar and a U.S. Geological Survey colleague were searching databases for information to feed a simulation of what a Cascadia earthquake would look like. Instead, they found a clue that points to the magnitude of an emerging megaquake. Reporting in Science Advances, Melgar and Gavin P. Hayes of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado detailed a pattern in GPS data that emerges between 10 and 15 seconds into a quake. It’s the start of a slip pulse, a transition involving the acceleration of the separation, or displacement, of two plates. The peak rate of the displacement foretells whether an event will fizzle into a small quake or explode into a magnitude 7 or larger event. They correctly identified, from doing physics-heavy analyses of two USGS databases dating to the early 1990s, all 12 magnitude 7-plus earthquakes, including three that exceeded magnitude 8 between 2003 and 2016. They found the same pattern in European and Chinese databases. “It was super exciting,” said Melgar, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences. “As Gavin and I poured through the data for what were really unrelated reasons, we began to see these trends. We had a bit of a eureka moment where we, well, if what we’re seeing is true, it means something about how earthquakes start.” The databases the researchers studied contain information from more than 3,000 earthquakes, with the same window of time indicating the severity of each event. “The challenge is that we’ve found average patterns,” Melgar said. “Individual earthquakes have their own personality. There can dia subduction zone off the Pacific Northwest coast, based on the fault’s history, is at risk for a full rupture that would generate a magnitude 9 earthquake. The last one occurred in January 1700. Melgar was seeking to model what the big one will look like. GPS picks up initial movement along a fault similar to a seismometer detecting the smallest first moments of an earthquake. However, while GPS can detect displacement within centimeters along a fault line, the technology is not widely used in real-time hazard monitoring. ShakeAlert, the West Coast earthquake early warning system that is being expanded to enhance advance notification in Oregon and Washington, does include land-based GPS stations in numerous locations, but the fault line itself is offshore where GPS stations cannot be used. The Cascadia subduction zone is located where the Juan de Fuca ocean plate dips under the North American continental plate. The fault stretches just offshore from northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino in Northern California. “We can do a lot with GPS stations on land along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, but it comes with a delay,” Melgar said. “As an earthquake starts, it would take some time for information about the motion of the fault to reach coastal stations. That delay would impact when a warning could be issued. People on the coast would get no warning because they are in a blind zone.” This delay could be reduced by placing sensors on the seafloor to record early acceleration behavior, he said. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/uo-led-study-finds-early-indicator-earthquakes-magnitude

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  • Bill introduced by Wyden would allow graduates with student debt to save for retirement

    May 23, 2019 04:05 pm U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and five Senate colleagues introduced legislation on May 13th that could help many college graduates save for retirement while paying off their student loans. The Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act would permit employers to make a matching contribution to an employee’s retirement plan while that employee is paying off student loans. Current law only allows for an employer to match contributions made directly by an employee to a 401(k) retirement plan. Under the proposal, recent graduates who cannot afford to save money for retirement above their student loan repayments would no longer have to forego the employer match.           For example, if an employee’s student loan payment is $500 and his or her employer matches 50 percent of retirement plan contributions, the employer would contribute $250 to the employee’s retirement account. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 45% of family heads under the age of 35 have student debt, with the median amount of debt owed rising from $5,363 in 1992 to $19,000 in 2016. “Millions of college grads are buried under tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that prevents them from building their future—buying a home, saving for retirement and starting a family,” said Sen. Wyden. “The sooner workers start to save for retirement the better, and paying down student loans shouldn’t stop them from building their nest egg.”      The Act would be a voluntary benefit that employers may elect not to offer employees and can be provided only to workers who are eligible to participate in the employer’s retirement plan. For more information on the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act, click here.

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  • Oregon governor will speak at UO commencement

    First published on May 20th in Around the O. Oregon’s 38th governor, Kate Brown, will be the keynote speaker at the 2019 commencement at the University of Oregon. UO’s commencement for the Class of 2019 will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, June 17, in Matthew Knight Arena. Brown, who assumed the governorship in 2015, has more than 25 years of experience in government and public service. “Gov. Brown has a lengthy history of helping people, creating efficiencies in government, and making sure that all Oregon residents have a voice in how our state moves forward,” said UO President Michael H. Schill. “She is a friend to the University of Oregon, and she will deliver a message to graduates that will be inspirational, empowering and challenging.” Commencement is one of the UO’s most important academic traditions, conferring degrees to about 4,000 undergraduates and about 1,000 graduate students. The event starts with a Grad Parade – with faculty, staff and graduates in full regalia – walking down 13th Avenue to Matthew Knight Arena for the main event. It marks the culmination of years of hard work and scholarly study for each student. It is the moment that a Duck transitions from a life as an undergraduate or graduate student to one of the university’s more than 200,000 living alumni out in the world. More than 100,000 live in Oregon. Many have gone on to serve as leaders in business, industry, education, the arts, government, non-governmental organizations and their communities. UO’s alumni include winners of Emmy, Oscar and Tony awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Guggenheim fellowships, MacArthur genius grants, the Nobel Prize, Olympic medals, Rhodes scholarships, the National Humanities Medal and countless other honors for achievement and public service. The UO graduates more ROTC officers than any other civilian school and ranks 16th for Peace Corps volunteers produced by the nation’s largest universities. In addition, the UO has produced seven Oregon governors, eight U.S. senators and 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Brown was born in Spain, where her father served in the U.S. Air Force. Her family moved to Minnesota and she later attended the University of Colorado Boulder, receiving a bachelor’s degree in environmental conservation with a certificate in women’s studies. She went to the Northwest School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, earning her law degree in 1985. Brown worked as a family law attorney, focusing on cases involving children in Oregon’s foster care system. She also worked with the Juvenile Rights Project, co-founded the Oregon Women’s Health & Wellness Alliance and taught at Portland State University. In 1991, Brown was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives, where she served the 13th District. In 1997, she became a state senator, serving the 21st District. She was elected to statewide office as Oregon Secretary of State and began that job in January 2009. Six years later, she became Oregon’s 38th governor when her predecessor, John Kitzhaber, resigned. She won a special election in 2016 and was re-elected to the state’s top post in 2018. During her tenure, Brown has signed legislation to improve the state’s education system, added jobs by passing Oregon’s largest transportation package, contained costs by improving government efficiency and accountability, and worked to assure that most adults and children have adequate access to health care. For more information, visit the UO commencement website.   https://around.uoregon.edu/content/oregon-governor-will-speak-uo-commencement

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  • Revenue forecast released; higher education leaders call for increased investments in students

    On May 15, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released its quarterly economic and revenue forecast. This is the forecast that lawmakers will use to make final budget decisions this session. The level of funding in the Public University Support Fund will receive is heavily reliant on this forecast. It’s clear that Oregon’s economy is currently on solid ground. According to the report, “Economic gains over the upcoming 2019-21 biennium will be more in-line with underlying growth in the labor force and productivity. Encouragingly, the latter has shown signs of life recently due to the tighter labor market. The recent escalation in the trade war is a wildcard. It is too soon to know how disruptive it may be to global supply chains as developments are ongoing.” Here’s the bottom line: Projected net General Fund resources are up $883 million, which provides undeniable certainty that the Legislature has the necessary funds to invest in tuition stability, reduce student debt and strengthen the entire education continuum in Oregon. Including Lottery revenues, net resources are up $908 million. Oregon’s unique kicker law has been triggered for both personal and corporate taxes. A record (in dollar terms) $1.4 billion personal kicker is projected for 2019-21, while corporate tax revenue of $616 million is projected to be dedicated to K-12 education spending. This means that Oregonians will receive a kicker credit on their taxes next year. Students and families across the state are counting on the Legislature to keep the cost of a college degree affordable and expand scholarships for Pell-eligible and historically underserved Oregonians so their dreams into degrees.  Moreover, Oregon businesses need the trained workforce that our community colleges and universities provide. You can read more about the quarterly revenue forecast and economic outlook here.

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