Oregon cuts spending on higher education deeper than every state but one – OregonLive.com
Oregon slashed per-student spending on higher education more than all but one other state between 2000 and 2014, according to a new national study.
Oregon’s 51 percent decline, to $4,134 per student, resulted from a combination of funding cuts by the Legislature and a recession-era enrollment increase that topped every other state, the Urban Institute study shows.
State education officials note that the Legislature partially restored funding cuts after the period covered by the study. But they say they aren’t surprised by the research’s ranking of Oregon, which tied with Pennsylvania and was surpassed only by Michigan.
“Oregon’s enrollments and disinvestment in higher education exceeded virtually every other state in the nation,” said Ben Cannon, executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. “The majority of universities’ revenue used to come from the state.”
That was in the 1980s and ’90s. State revenues declined after 1990, when voters passed Measure 5, which limited property taxes. Community colleges, which rely on local levies, were hit especially hard.
Since then, as the Legislature decreased spending on higher education, Oregon’s public universities have scrambled to raise tuition and find alternate money sources. Now they’re getting more aggressive.
The University of Oregon is seeking $2 billion from donors for scholarships, faculty hiring, research and construction and renovation of campus buildings. Last year Oregon State University finished raising more than $1 billion for student scholarships and fellowships, faculty recruitment and retention, and building renovations.
Both universities recruit more international and out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. At the University of Oregon, annual tuition and fees are $10,289 for state residents, compared to $32,024 for nonresidents.
Leaders of Portland State University, which trimmed its latest tuition hike after the Legislature increased support, are starting to campaign for a metro-area payroll tax that would raise from $24 million to $50 million a year. Portland State President Wim Wiewel’s administration is preparing an initiative petition drive for the November 2016 election.
In Salem, higher education has always been vulnerable to cuts, because legislators know that unlike schools, universities and community colleges can raise tuition.
Yet increasingly, in-state tuition hikes meet with resistance in the form of student protests. The price increases also counter the higher-education commission’s objectives of increasing access, retention and graduation rates.
Sandy Baum, co-author of the Urban Institute report, said that in states that have disinvested in higher education, tuition hikes make college unaffordable for some. Her study found that state funding per student declined 27 percent nationally between the 2000-2001 and 2013-2104 academic years.
“It’s very short-sighted not to adequately fund higher education,” Baum said. “I am worried about how low- and moderate-income students are paying tuition.”
Some states near the top of the study’s ranking got there mainly by cutting higher education spending. Others experienced enrollment increases that came without increases in state funding, thus diluting the amount of spending per student.
Oregon did both, cutting state funds as enrollment shot up 29 percent – the nation’s biggest increase — from fall 2010 to fall 2013.
“In some states where there were significant cuts, they’ve tried really hard to come back,” Baum said. “In other states where that’s not such a priority, what happens is that the quality of education goes down or the tuition goes way up.”
In Oregon, the Legislature began increasing higher-education funding in 2013, climbing out of a 2011 trough. This year legislators appropriated more money, restoring funding to almost 2007 pre-recession levels.
But college and university expenses have grown meanwhile, most significantly in areas such as health care and retirement contributions that institutions can’t control, Cannon said. Also at some point, he said, Oregon universities will encounter a limit to the number of out-of-state students willing to apply.
Cannon hopes that if the economy stays strong, the Legislature will continue to reinvest in higher ed. Still, he said, “We should not be surprised that universities are looking for every possible funding opportunity, given the magnitude of disinvestment” that occurred.
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