UO President Michael Schill throwing the O with members of the Lane County legislative delegation.

University leaders ask Legislature for improved funding

The presidents and campus leaders at Oregon’s seven public universities are urging lawmakers to boost state funding for higher education, saying recent budget proposals from the governor and Legislature could force record increases in tuition.

University leaders sent a letter outlining their concerns just as state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, the co-chairs of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means released their framework for the 2017-19 state budget.

The budget outline uses only existing state resources to balance the books, in contrast to the budget proposal released by Gov. Kate Brown in December, which presumed nearly $900 million in new revenue to fill a $1.8 billion budget hole. Brown recommended keeping state operating funding flat for public universities, allocating $667 million for the Public University Support Fund.

The co-chairs’ budget plan differed from the governor’s proposal in other ways. Brown provided specific funding levels for the university fund, community colleges, financial aid and other higher education programs. The co-chairs, on the other hand, allocated a lump sum for all postsecondary education programs and services and then asked the Education Subcommittee on Ways and Means to make recommendations on how to divide those funds.

The bottom line for UO: The co-chairs increased overall funding for higher education slightly from the governor’s budget, falling well short of the roughly $100 million needed to prevent significant tuition increases and budget cuts at the UO next year.

In the letter sent to legislative leaders last week, a coalition of campus constituencies from the seven public universities warned that proposed funding levels fail to account for cost increases. Neither the governor’s nor the co-chairs’ proposed budgets will maintain current levels of operation at the UO and would result in some of Oregon’s largest-ever tuition increases, university leaders said.

“When you combine 20 years of budget cuts with significant cost increases, you inevitably face severe challenges in balancing the budget,” UO President Mike Schill said. “There is no question that cost drivers are part of the problem — but focusing on those lets us off the hook as a state. The real problem is that there are only four other states that provide less funding for higher education than Oregon.”

University supporters interested in advocating for increased funding can take part in Tuition and Fee Advisory Board forums, testify at legislative hearings and participate in UO Day at the Capitol on Thursday, March 9.

Students, faculty, staff and alumni are invited to join Schill in Salem on UO Day to make the case for increased investments in higher education. Faculty and staff can participate by registering at https://goo.gl/forms/BKg5qY7EvEWGKNM32.

For more information about the latest federal, state and local government and community relations actions and initiatives that affect the UO, see the Government and Community Relations Update.