First published at Oregonlive.com on January 28th, 2019.
By Michael H. Schill, Maria A. Gallegos-Chacon, Louie Vidmar and Chris Sinclair
Schill is president of University of Oregon; Gallegos-Chacon is president of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon; Vidmar and Chris Sinclair are presidents of unions representing staff, faculty and administrators.
State lawmakers begin the 2019 legislative session with a clear choice that will profoundly affect the future of Oregon. Will they support access to higher education by investing in our public colleges and universities? Or, by failing to meaningfully support students, will they allow soaring tuition and debt to slam the door on students and families?
It is not hyperbole to say that the state’s future depends on ensuring that all Oregonians have access to an affordable, accessible and financially-stable education system. The surest path to future success is by obtaining a college education. Today’s undergraduates are the next generation of Oregon leaders, parents, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, artists, scientists, farmers, architects, journalists, engineers, small business owners and more.
Yet some policy makers seem content to maintain current levels of higher education funding or leave it completely out of conversations about revenue reform, which is needed to adequately support the entire education system. Without new dollars, Oregon’s community colleges and universities will be forced to consider double-digit tuition increases that would deny opportunity to students who need it the most. Flat funding also would lead to painful budget cuts and the loss of hundreds -- and potentially thousands -- of jobs.
Some Oregonians hear a message coming from Salem that sounds as if lawmakers plan to ignore tens of thousands of college and university students who represent our collective future. We hope that is unintentional and will quickly be corrected.
Over the past 20 years, the state has shifted the cost of paying for higher education on to Oregon’s students. In the 1990's, public support provided about two-thirds of the cost of a four-year degree for each resident student. Today, that ratio has largely been reversed, with students and families picking up the difference through higher tuition rates.
Even with increases over the last few years in state dollars, public support for higher education in Oregon remains below pre-recession levels and ranks among the lowest in the nation on a per capita basis. Oregon cannot afford to fall further behind.
Oregon’s colleges and universities have been clear that without at least $120 million for public universities and $77 million for community colleges, every institution across the state will face budget shortfalls that will have to be closed with a mix of tuition increases and budget cuts.
Flat funding will close the door of opportunity for students across Oregon and will hurt the economy. The reverberations will touch students, families and communities in every corner of the state.
With an eye toward the future and an unwavering focus on supporting students, now is the time for lawmakers to commit to investing in every child in Oregon. That means funding Oregon’s entire education system -- K-12, community colleges, and four-year public colleges and universities -- regardless of whether it is within the existing budget or with revenue from proposed new taxes.
As leaders of the University of Oregon -- representing students, staff, faculty and administration -- we stand unified and ready to help lawmakers as they set to tackle these tough challenges in the coming months.
Our students deserve as much and Oregon’s future depends on it.
Michael H. Schill is president of the University of Oregon; Maria A. Gallegos-Chacon is president of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon; Louie Vidmar is president of SEIU Local 085; and Chris Sinclair is president of United Academics.