Thanks a lot, Oregon

I’m well aware that issues such as the price of tuition are complex and that it would be difficult to assign blame for the most recent increase solely on the the votes made by Portland State’s Board of Trustees. Obviously, there are many dimensions and many reasons as to why the Board and the administration felt the need to raise tuition, and the problems are not recent nor are they new.

While I am not usually one to point fingers, I do feel there is a particular entity that should be ashamed of their conduct and is largely to blame for this increase in tuition. Quite frankly, the Oregon Legislature has really dropped the ball when it comes to funding higher education.

A lot of Oregon politicians like to sit around and pat themselves on the back for freezing tuition and doing their best to pass student-friendly bills such as Pay It Forward. Nevertheless, any warm feelings they get should be extinguished. Even our former governor, John Kitzhaber, paraded himself around like he was some champion for students because he pushed to freeze tuition once.

While these things shouldn’t go unnoticed or unrecognized, they hardly scratch the surface when it comes to the skyrocketing tuition rates for in-state undergraduate students. Politicians are attacking symptoms of a larger problem, pretending as though their concern is some sort of victory while also ignoring the fact their voting history is the main source for this crisis.

Since 2000, tuition and fees for Oregon in-state undergraduate students has gone up nearly 160 percent. This is in comparison to a mere 40 percent inflation rate over the same period of time. Tuition at PSU alone has increased over 9 percent in just the past four years.

While many factors have contributed to this trend, the failure of Oregon’s legislature to support higher education has fueled the fire.

According to the American Council of Education, since 1980 Oregon has reduced its investment in higher education by 61.5 percent. If the legislature continues down this road, by 2036 students might see hardly any financial investment when it comes to funding higher education. Right now, only about 12 percent of PSU’s budget comes from the state of Oregon.

In all honesty, a tuition increase was imminent and doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

While I wouldn’t really consider him an ally for students or educators whatsoever, even PSU President Wim Wiewel recognizes that the state of Oregon is not doing their part for their state schools. Wiewel said that the 4.23 percent increase in tuition along with $4.7 million in cuts was necessary unless the Oregon Legislature boosts funding as was asked by all of Oregon’s public universities.

However, even if the Legislature did take action, their efforts to significantly help students would still fall short. If legislators felt compelled to help students and actually voted to add $755 million to the state budget for higher education, it would only restore funding per student to the 2007 levels.

While it’s easy to condemn our elected officials and administration for abandoning students, the majority of Oregon citizens are just as guilty as them. During the most recent election cycle, the majority of Oregonians voted down a measure that would have helped the Legislature allocate funds for higher education.

It seems that the average Oregonian doesn’t really see a value in investing tax money in higher education. Student debt is not good for anyone. It’s bad for students, it’s bad for the economy and it’s bad for our state. It’s as if voters forget that students are their future doctors, teachers, social workers, business men and women, and parents. It’s also as if politicians forget that students are voters.

Under this latest tuition hike, out-of-state tuition will go up 3 percent and full-time undergraduate tuition will rise from $7,794 to $8,124 for the 2015–16 academic year. While this is not crippling, it’s an unwelcome sight in the face of record-high student loan debt and the expenses of living in downtown Portland.
Thanks a lot, Oregon Legislature, thanks a lot.