The higher education disgrace

The higher education disgrace

The state's business community has long supported public higher education funding, and put its muscle behind recent reform efforts. Business knows that an educated population is critical to the economic health of Oregon.

In this month’s Input, 52% of the 551 business leaders we surveyed in late March said funding for Oregon’s public universities should be a very high or high priority over other services.

Yet Oregon’s financial support for higher education ranks near the bottom nationally and the disinvestment in education continues, while the cost burden shifts to students.

As we show in our By The Numbers on student debt, average student loan debt continues to rise — 7% from 2009 to 2010 for all public and private Oregon higher education students — as does tuition and fees. Oregon students on average now carry about $24,000 in debt.

Oregon was one of 15 states receiving federal stimulus funding for higher education in 2009. Those funds are gone and according to the Grapevine study, conducted by the Illinois State University Center for the Study of Higher Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers, it leaves many higher education systems “in significantly worse shape” than before the recession.

The study found state appropriations for colleges and students sunk by 7.6% in 2011-12, the largest decline in at least a half century. All but nine states experienced one-year declines from their 2010-11 totals. The 41 states that cut their spending did so by widely varying proportions. In Oregon, that cut was 8%.

Dwindling state support leaves colleges and universities and their students caught between a rock and a hard place: Pay the price for school and take on significant debt, or pay the price of giving up on a college education.

According to a 2012 report by the Pell Institute, Oregon has reduced its investment in higher education by 61.5% since 1980. If the trend continues, state investment will reach zero in 2036.

Is there hope the trend could be reversed by then? Zero investment in the future clearly is not an option.

Robin Doussard