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Regional Interests

Oregon higher education on track to receive full requested state budget

It appears Oregon’s public colleges and universities will receive the amount of money they have requested from the state to maintain current services and programs and to prioritize recovery efforts from the pandemic.

If a newly amended budget bill is passed by the state legislature, Oregon’s seven public universities will receive $900 million for operations and programs, and the state’s 17 community colleges will receive about $703 million for the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

Last December, the sets of institutions had initially been slated to receive about $836 million and $641 million, respectively, in Gov. Kate Brown’s initial recommended budget. Those amounts would have left the universities and colleges flat-funded — with the same amount they received the last biennium — with costs rising.

However, a budget forecast released last month showed a boost of more than $1 billion in tax revenue above previous estimates, fueling optimism among higher education leaders that their requested increases were much more likely.

“The legislature has made key investments in this budget that will support the equitable attainment of learners across Oregon,” Ben Cannon, executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said in a statement. “Our public higher education institutions will receive the funding levels they requested.”

Eastern Oregon University President Tom Insko, who is the chair of the Oregon Council of Presidents — a coalition of Oregon’s public university leaders — echoed those sentiments. He said the extra funding will be especially helpful as campuses continue to confront the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The budget released today helps students return to in-person instruction and provides resources for campuses to continue to address history system inequities that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Insko said in a statement Friday. “Oregon’s universities are grateful that lawmakers funded the budget request of $900 million to continue current services. Prioritizing these resources for higher education will help thousands of students across the state, expand opportunity for Oregon families, and provide a workforce for Oregon businesses as they emerge from the pandemic.”

The news was also welcomed by the Oregon Community College Association. The OCCA’s Executive Director, Cam Preus, said the community colleges had requested $702 million from the state, so they actually ended up getting an extra million dollars in the amended bill.

“With this level of funding, colleges can continue to serve their communities providing affordable and high-quality education, and hold tuition levels down,” Preus told OPB.

Cannon with the HECC said the amended budget bill also includes increased state funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, a state-funded grant program for low-income students. Insko and Preus also said that was welcome news.

“[N]ew investments in the Oregon Opportunity Grant will provide financial aid support to thousands of additional low-income students,” Cannon said. “The finer details are also positive. In this budget, the legislature funds youth employment initiatives, work to make the transfer of credits between colleges and universities more seamless, and dedicated staff to work on issues crucial to better serving underrepresented students.”

He continued: “There is more to do, and financial aid programs remain critically underfunded even after these new investments, but this budget is a constructive step.”

State lawmakers are set to discuss the budget bill during a work session Monday.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting