Higher up the ladder

Higher education is always a hot topic. Whether it’s funding, a cheating scandal, sports or some Greek-life stunt going viral, college-related things are constantly being talked about.

Photo by Kayla Nguyen.
Photo by Kayla Nguyen.

Higher education is always a hot topic. Whether it’s funding, a cheating scandal, sports or some Greek-life stunt going viral, college-related things are constantly being talked about.

Right now, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is pushing to broaden the ever-lengthening conversation about who has control over public higher education. The governor is one of the figureheads of House Bill 3120, which would create the new Higher Education Coordinating Commission. If passed, this new board will replace the old State Board of Higher Education.

While that’s all fine and dandy, will this name change do anything? And how will it differ from the old board? When Kitzhaber originally pitched the plan, he proposed one all-powerful board. This was predicated on the grounds that a single board would “look out for the interests of students and the state,” to “lead to better results at lower costs.” That was last fall, however.

According to The Oregonian, this new plan would involve the HECC overseeing three already-existing agencies: The Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, the Oregon University System chancellor’s office and the Oregon Student Access Commission, which helps Oregon students with planning and paying for higher education.

Now the legislation is up for approval.

If passed, lawmakers will no longer make decisions regarding how much money goes to universities, community colleges and financial aid. The Oregonian also reported that state legislature would “make one single allocation to higher education, and the HECC would decide how to divvy it up.”

Along with this relatively large and significant change, the HECC would also appoint/hire its own executive director, as well as officers to oversee preschool to college education. Ben Cannon, Kitzhaber’s education advisor, told The Oregonian that the move toward the HECC is necessary because it would help “make a lot more sense of this higher education soup [of multiple boards and commissions].”

It does seem that if the HECC were approved there would be a lot less mess for government workers, but what about the people this will directly affect—the students? If the bill is passed, the OSAC will be disbanded. Every part of higher education would be covered under HECC, which would probably mean job cuts.

What about the processes by which money is doled out? If a person on the board (and I can’t imagine this board would be very large) had a lot of disdain for a particular university or community college, then personal opinion could affect how much funding that academic institution receives.

That doesn’t seem quite right. Kitzhaber said that some 40 percent of Oregonians are currently in possession of college credits, but that statistic needs to double by 2015. Making a statement like that shows that
Kitzhaber cares about higher education and knows that having a population with as many degrees as possible will help Oregon’s future. That’s cool, I guess.

As students of a public Oregon university, this is something we need to be very, very aware of. Many Portland State students rely on financial aid to get through school, pay living expenses and plan for financial emergencies. Because PSU has more students than any other Oregon university, it would be logical to assume that it would get more funding. But that remains to be seen.

In all honesty, this will probably turn out to be a positive thing for Oregon’s future in higher education. However, it’s also a sign that we should be very mindful of what’s going on in Salem. It’s great that the state’s Legislature is at least attempting to simplify higher education, and we can only hope that students will be the benefactors of these changes.