The Oregon Legislature should be declared a crime scene.
Oregon’s state universities are increasingly that in name only. Because of the Legislature’s calculated callousness or pure indifference in funding Oregon universities, young people across the state are facing soaring college loan debts and diminished opportunities for higher education.
The state is also sabotaging its goal of ensuring that 40 percent of all adult Oregonians have a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2025 and undermining the rationale for the state having a say in the operations of what are still called public universities.
Governor John Kitzhaber says he deserves to be re-elected because he froze tuition at Oregon colleges.
Sure, for one year.
In June, the state Board of Higher Education approved a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates for the 2014-2015 academic year.
But that was after steadily escalating tuition rates for in-state undergraduates, particularly after voters approved Measure 5 in 1990 and K-12 school funding shifted to the state, with a devastating impact on state support for higher education that has continued to today.
Over the past 15 years, tuition and fees at the University of Oregon, for example, leaped from $3810 for the 1999-2000 academic year to $9918 for the 2014-2015 academic year.
In other words, since the 1999-2000 academic year, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates have increased 160 percent. You can’t duck the fact that this
substantially outpaced the 42.8 percent rate of inflation.
During that same period, the state’s share of the University of Oregon’s annual operating budget has been in steady retreat from 17.1 percent in 1999-2000 to 5.5 percent in 2013-2014. Extrapolating this trend, state investment will reach zero by 2022.
Coincident with the loss of state support has been an increase in out-of-state students. In the 2013-2014 academic year, non-residents, undergraduate and graduate, reached 46.5 percent of total enrollment.
The University cloaks the leap in out-of-state students as a well-intentioned effort to ensure diversity, but it’s really all about money. In 2014-2015, for example, while in-state students are paying $9918 in tuition and fees, out-of-state students are paying $30,888.
It could be argued that out-of-state students aren’t displacing in-state students, given that the number of undergraduate in-state students has increased about 20 percent since 1999-2000. The number of out-of-state students, however, mushroomed by 250 percent during the same period.
What that means is that the university is likely drawing fewer students from low-income Oregon families and competing more aggressively for students who can afford a more expensive education. In addition, as the state’s population has increased, it’s getting tougher for in-state students to get in.
Had the state not cut university funding so severely, it could have or kept tuition and fees down or accommodated more in-state students.
The pullback in state funding raises the question of why the state continues to impose its will on the universities in so many ways. “The defunding of public higher education by the states inevitably inaugurates a new conversation about who controls them and whose interests are to be served,” says Thomas Mortenson, senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
Originally published in the Hillsboro Argus, Oct. 28, 2013