The future looks bleak

With enrollment booming just as funding from the state hits an all-time low, the future of Portland State is very much at a crossroads. The university has steadily increased in size and stature over the last several decades, but how long is that trend going to continue? Will tuition still be within the range of the average twenty-year-old twenty years down the road? Will the cars currently circling Broadway and Sixth have found a parking spot by then? It’s time to take a quick look at PSU circa 2024, in hopes that it will provide some insight into our current problems, and also in the hope that this literary device hasn’t been completely done to death by now.

2024 students can consider themselves lucky to have the run of the largest campus in the state, rivaling the size of the University of Washington in Seattle. If you take a quick walk through the Park Blocks toward the river, past Starbucks Hall, you can see two new dorms under construction on Fifth Avenue – where the Westfall Apartments and a couple of sleazy motels used to reside. The newly elevated streetcar line on Fifth is currently shut down, after a rash of late-night accidents in which balance-impaired students plummeted to their deaths. Various alcoholic-proof redesign proposals are being considered. Further up the street, police cars ring the Ondine, which was sold off to the state two years ago and converted with a minimum of modifications into a juvenile detention center.

The first floor of most campus buildings are now comprised of retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops, so if you stay at street level it feels a lot like being at an outdoor version of the Lloyd Center. If you go up a few floors, however, you can witness some of the most advanced classrooms in the nation. The classrooms and computer labs are all packed with the most high-tech equipment currently available, but 75 percent of classes are now completely online and a large percentage of students will never even see these facilities. It’s nice to know they’re there, though. Something cool to show the high-school tours every spring.

Viking athletic programs have also been increasing in prominence in recent years. The football team finally made it into the PAC-12 just as PGE Park went bankrupt for the fifth and final time and was bulldozed to make room for a Costco. Hastily erected extra bleachers at the practice field have been providing an interim solution this year.

New construction on campus has slowed down lately after two decades of unprecedented expansion, when the university was building houses and buying up hotels like some life-size version of Monopoly. With state funding now covering only 3 percent of the budget – down from 7 percent five years ago, PSU has been forced to rely more and more on private funding. A recent proposal to rename the school Intel State University in exchange for a $500 million grant was vetoed after vocal opposition from the student body, so it looks like tuition will continue its merry hike upward.

The university has been considerate enough to provide foldout beds in the Neuberger lobby for students waiting in line for their financial aid checks. Many students have been forced to turn to unconventional methods to deal with the $12,000-a-term in-state tuition – such as selling high-grade pharmaceuticals or getting involved in the lucrative black market for textbooks. Police recently busted up a crime ring run by individuals within the PSU Bookstore, who were stealing books by the boxful and selling them on the street for as little as $500 – approximately half of retail.

Budget cuts to the Oregon University System aren’t the only curveball the state has thrown us lately. With the Public Employees Retirement System due to be phased out completely in the next several years, there has been a mass exodus of tenured professors from the university. A lot of grad programs are now being taught by last year’s grad students. However, with the high percentage of online classes as mentioned above, many students will never notice.

And employers don’t seem to mind either. A PSU degree is still your best ticket to not being a statistic every time the state unemployment figures come out. Making it through school may be a bit more of a challenge these days than it has been in the past, but with scholarships, grants, federal financial aid and a couple of part-time jobs, it’s still entirely possible to graduate in five or six years and have your student loans paid off by the time you retire.