The Oregon Legislature is heading into the homestretch, and the budget for higher education remains in flux. However, a lot has been happening behind the scenes, and I’d like to share some of that with you.
We started the 2015 session with all seven public university presidents united behind a request for $755 million – a figure that roughly puts us back to the level we were at before the Great Recession of 2007. Our argument has been that all other state agencies have been restored – now it’s higher education’s turn.
At this point, the leaders of the Joint Ways and Means Committee – the ones who write the budget – have proposed $670 million. That’s an increase, to be sure, but not nearly enough to make up for years of cuts. That figure, however, was proposed before the most recent revenue forecast, which indicates that the state could have significantly more money to spend over the next two years.
Now we get to the behind-the-scenes part.
The presidents are asking legislative leaders to boost the Ways and Means proposal to $705 million. Then, if the economy continues to improve as expected, we would request the additional $50 million be approved when lawmakers return for their short legislative session in February 2016. If we were to get that level of funding, the presidents have agreed to hold tuition increases at most universities, including PSU, to 2 percent during the following academic year.
My viewpoint? This is more than fair. Attaining a college degree is more important than ever before, and we have to find ways to keep it affordable for all Oregon students. I believe Oregon legislators understand that and hope they will come through for us — that is, Oregon’s students.