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Oregon lags behind most states in funding for public higher education, the report found

Oregon’s legislature still spends far less on higher education than other states, leading to the highest cost of college attendance in the West, according to a new report.

Oregon ranks 44th in the nation in public financing of higher education and 37th in per-pupil funding, according to the latest annual State Higher Education Finance report from the Colorado-based State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission is a member of the association.

The report compared state-by-state funding data for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. While investment in Oregon’s higher education has increased in recent years, it has not been enough to make up for more than a decade of underfunding and heavy reliance on student fees to cover rising costs, said Ben Cannon, executive director from the Commission.

Cannon and university presidents have repeatedly asked the Legislature for more dollars for higher education and a funding model that balances state investments with tuition revenue.

“We continue to rely on students to balance our budgets,” Cannon said in testimony before a legislative Ways and Means subcommittee last year.

Unreliable source of income

Enrollment at Oregon’s seven public universities and 17 community colleges has been more than twice the national average over the past five to 10 years, the report found, making tuition an unreliable source of funding.

“Over the next decade, or whatever part of that decade I spend, I hope to work with the Legislature to restore the ‘public’ to our public system of higher education,” Cannon told members of the subcommittee. .

Per student investment in Oregon’s public higher education system last year was more than $2,500 less than the national average, according to the Higher Education Financial Report. In Oregon, the state invested approximately $8,400 per full-time enrolled student each year during the 2022-2023 school year. The national average that year was more than $11,000 per student. State investment in financial aid for middle- and low-income students has increased over the past decade but still lags behind the national average. Washington invests twice as much money in scholarships for such students compared to Oregon.

“You have a situation in Oregon right now where the vast majority of public university presidents in Oregon are from out of state and we are shocked,” said Kelly Ryan, president of Eastern Oregon University, which took over in 2023. shocked by what we found. And we also wonder how we are going to get our work done in such a drastically underfunded environment.”

Ryan had to cut 8.4% of the university budget — about $5 million — for the 2023-2024 school year.

“They (the Legislature) recognize that we are very important in building a tax base and building a workforce, but it’s hard for us to stay ahead of the curve,” she said.

Decade of divestments

Oregon’s higher education funding model has relied more heavily than many other states on raising tuition to cover rising operating costs since the 2008 recession, and funding has since been cut in half.

“A lot of students took on a lot of debt to help the state keep its Corrections (Department), Human Services (Department) and K-12 systems afloat during the worst recession anyone had seen in their lifetime,” Cannon told the legislature.

Oregon’s public universities and colleges now generate 32% more of their revenue from tuition than most public higher education institutions in the country, the report found. Between 2013 and 2023, student college revenue growth in Oregon increased 23%. The national average for tuition revenue growth during the same period was 1.5%.

Each of Oregon’s seven public universities is increasing tuition in the upcoming school year, and has done so virtually every year for the past decade. The average tuition at those schools today is about 26% higher than it was a decade ago. The rising cost of housing around Oregon’s universities has also increased costs and affordability issues, Cannon said.

“A state that invests relatively little is going to have institutions that are likely to have relatively high tuition, and that is absolutely what this report illustrates,” he told the Capital Chronicle.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news agencies supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, please contact editor Lynne Terry: (email protected). Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle Facebook And Tweet.

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Email the Salem Reporter news team: (email protected).

Since 2017, Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focused on education for American public media. She has reported from the Arctic to Antarctica for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain, where she earned a master’s degree in digital media. She has been a kayak guide in Alaska, worked on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting on the road.

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