As some news outlets have reported, Portland State University is considering an initiative that would ask voters in the tri-county area to approve a local revenue measure to make college more affordable. I would like to add some context and explain why we’re looking into this idea.
Let’s start with the Oregon Legislature. For the first time in years, lawmakers increased funding for higher education rather than make cuts. Yet the state allocation for 2015-17 remains well below what public universities received in 2007-09. PSU needs a long-term solution to avoid future cuts and tuition increases. We simply can’t pin our future financial stability on a hope that the state will invest enough in higher education.
As Oregon’s main urban university, PSU embraces a unique access mission – we offer an excellent college education to a broad cross-section of mostly Oregonians. PSU students have more financial needs than their counterparts at the University of Oregon or Oregon State University. Two-thirds of PSU’s 29,000 students qualify for financial aid. Nearly half of last year’s graduates qualified for Pell Grants because of their low incomes. Only one in five students who qualify actually receive state Opportunity Grants. More than 40 percent of our freshmen last year were students of color.
Our exploration of a possible revenue measure – most likely some sort of small business payroll tax – stems from our desire to offer more scholarships, and hire advisors and faculty to boost the region’s highly educated workforce. We’re calling it the College Affordability and Student Success Initiative. It is one of a variety of solutions we are working on to ease the cost of college and help students graduate with smaller debt loads. Among them:
• Persuade the Legislature to increase funding during the February session.
• Increase our efforts to encourage philanthropic giving.
• Launch new reTHINK initiatives that encourage efficiencies and cost-effective ways to offer courses.
• Offer additional support to help students graduate more quickly and with less debt.
We haven’t made a decision yet on whether to go forward with a possible ballot measure, and we won’t move forward without authorization from our Board of Trustees. But this is an idea well worth pursuing. I will keep you informed on new developments.