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legislators on both
sides of the aisle said
they, too, believe
it is imperative to
continue funding the
Opportunity Grant
program, though
they would not
commit to a specific
amount, given the
tough budget climate.
“Putting people into
higher education has
a great return,” said
House Republican
Leader Bruce Hanna,
adding that education
will be a high priority
both for him and his
caucus. “Our goal
has to be to create
an environment
of creating jobs, because when people are working they’re
generating money, and they’re less of a drain on social services,”
Hanna said.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, lawmakers believe
they should build on it. “It would not be in any sense a good
decision to have opened the doors to thousands of Oregon
students…then close the doors,” said SenateMajority Leader
Richard Devlin, a Democrat. Still, Devlin would not defend
the governor’s education budget as proposed, in part because it
assumes the use of reserve funds that the legislature would have
to release during a supplemental session next year. In addition,
Devlin, Hanna and others are concerned that the governor’s
budget shortchanges the community colleges, which have seen
the largest enrollment increases and which, given the state’s
economic troubles, are likely to see evenmore, as workers who
have lost their jobs return to school.
Legislators also will have to weigh education and training
needs against pressing demands for human services and
public safety. “It is my goal to support education,” said Senator
Margaret Carter, a Democrat and co-chair
of the SenateWays andMeans Committee.
But, she said, “I do know I won’t balance this
budget on the back of human services.”
Among those who will be lobbying the
legislature to support the Opportunity Grant
programwill be the Oregon Business Council,
an association of more than 40 top business
executives focused on public policy issues.The
OBC helped fund the initial research on the
Shared ResponsibilityModel and endorses it
in its current business plan. “It’s a very logical
formula that has wide support,” said OBC president Duncan
Wyse.
Even so, OSAC’s Dennis Johnson was pragmatic. “This is
going to be one tough session,” he said.
One thing is virtually certain: With increased enrollment
and tight budgets, institutions will have to domore with less.
That will not be easy, saidMary Spilde, president of Lane
Community College. Like the rest of Oregon’s community
colleges, Lane is still trying to regain the budget ground it lost
in the early part of the decade, when the state last faced a fiscal
crisis. At Lane, $8million in cuts over two budget cycles forced
the school to close programs, lay off staff and raise tuition from
$38 to $63 per credit. With a 14 percent enrollment increase
this past fall, there’s nomore fat to trim, Spilde said. If she shuts
down programs, the school will lose students. And if the school
loses students, it will lose tuition dollars and public funding tied
to enrollment. “So it’s a downward spiral,” she said.
“As a state, howwe approach funding of education in
this downturn is going to be very important to the public’s
optimism and decisions about college,” said OUS Chancellor
Pernsteiner. “When institutions are well-funded, there are
corresponding enrollment increases,” he added. “If we sound
doom and gloom, people don’t come.”
Soon after the cuts to the Opportunity Grants were
announced, six of the state’s seven four-year institutions
promised to absorb the costs of those cuts (Pacific University,
a private institution, alsomade a similar pledge.); the seventh,
Portland State University, said it would cover about 75
percent of the unmet need for its students who filled out their
applications too late to receive a grant for the winter and spring
terms.
But by the end of February, with the economy continuing
to tank and the legislature threatening to slash an additional
$37million from the OUS budget, at least one institution was
exploring the possibility of raising tuition. In late February,
University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer told
lawmakers that enrollment increases and the cost of covering
financial aid cuts have put the school’s budget under severe
strain, and that he and campus officials have been talking
about adding a surcharge onto spring term tuition bills, as one
potential option to deal with deeper budget cuts.
Meanwhile, institutions, as well as the state, are looking
to private donors to fill in the gaps. Linfield College has
announced a fundraising effort of more than $32,000 for its
students; Chemeketa Community College is engaged in a
$150,000 effort to qualify for a matching grant for scholarships
from the James F. andMarion L. Miller Foundation, which in
August extended similar offers of varying amounts to all the
state’s community colleges, for a total of $1.5million.
In fact, there has been increased interest fromprivate
donors in funding scholarships, said OSAC’s Dennis Johnson.
In addition to administering the Opportunity Grants, OSAC
also administers some 400 privately funded scholarships, up
from280 just three years ago. And Johnson said he expects
that more private donors will come forward as the economy
worsens. “It isn’t the solution, but it’s one of many solutions,” he
said.
“These are precarious economic times,” Johnson said. But,
like other higher education advocates, Johnson still thinks the
Opportunity Grant is a good news story. “Without seeming like
a Pollyanna, I amoptimistic about the program,” he said.This is
the message he said he’d like to send to students: “Don’t panic.
There is help available.”
u
Freelance writer KathyWitkowsky lives inMissoula, Montana.
Only ten percent of
Oregon’s Hispanic
population have a
bachelor’s degree,
whereas 31 percent
of whites do.
Oregon’s “shared responsibility” student financial aid plan
has gotten off to a good start, but James Sager, education
policy advisor to Governor Ted Kulongoski, wonders, “How do
we maintain the program in good and bad financial times?”