Saving democracy by investing in higher education

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By Tim Young of Portland, Oregon. Tim is a former student body president at Portland State and a former member of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." -- John Adams

The notion that education is only about training employees is fundamentally flawed. Education is about responsible citizens, in addition to the economic benefits of having an educated citizenry. One begets the others.

People with higher education degrees are statistically less likely to need help from the state; they pay more in taxes when employed and are more likely to get involved in their community. Business arguably like them too. Our cultures, our art, our understandings all benefit when more of us have access to a quality education of our choosing. The enormous passion of the human spirit to explore abstract thought and create tangible benefits for not just the individual, but the entire community should be nurtured more than it is today in this state, and in this country. In this globally competitive environment when it matters even more than it ever did, Americans are falling behind where used to lead the world in education. There are many reasons why this has happened, and pricing students out of college is one of them. Take the typical student at University of Oregon today as compared to in 1979. Adjusted for inflation, using the Consumer Price Index, "tuition at the University of Oregon has gone up 841 percent in the past 30 years."

It's not as if the men and women working at the cafeteria in the student union are all now driving a Ferrari, it's probably much more like you remember if you went to a public university in Oregon.

So why has tuition gone up so much, so fast? Why are we discouraging students from going to school by charging more than 8 times for it than we did 30 years ago? The biggest reason is that over the years, fewer and fewer dollars are being spent per student by Oregon taxpayers on higher education.

It's sad but true. We actually spend more on incarcerating people here than educating them now. Further, a dollar from every Oregon taxpayers simply goes farther than a dollar from only 86,546 individual students so when we pay even a dollar less as taxpayers, students pay many more dollars individuality to make up that loss.

Moreover, over those same thirty years Oregon's economy changed and so did the needs of the economy. Investments in education is a recognized component of long-term economic recovery strategies and on the national level, there is there is reason to be optimistic.

Recently, President Obama has launched a much needed effort "to ensuring that America will regain its lost ground and have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020. The President believes that regardless of educational path after high school, all Americans should be prepared to enroll in at least one year of higher education or job training to better prepare our workforce for a 21st century economy. To accomplish these overarching goals, the President is committed to increasing higher education access and success by restructuring and dramatically expanding college financial aid, while making federal programs simpler, more reliable, and more efficient for students. The President has proposed a plan to address college completion and strengthen the higher education pipeline to ensure that more students succeed and complete their degree. His plan will also invest in community colleges to equip a greater share of young people and adults with high-demand skills and education for emerging industries.

However in response to the president's plan Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, said that:

"not everybody has the interest, the ability or the need to pursue a college degree...And more to the point, the government's own data show that most of the new jobs Obama talks about may require some kind of training, but not a college education...According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only five of the 25 fastest-growing occupations over the next decade require any kind of college degree. The rest include jobs like office clerks, home care and health aides, janitors and maids..."

Captured best in qualitative and quantitative analysis, rather than just quantitative alone, this argument ignores all the benefits which we take for granted that having a highly educated citizenry offers beyond individual employment. What about enrichment? What about a student finding a sense of purpose? What about a student learning to love learning for their entire lives and passing that on to their kids, maybe breaking a cycle of poverty for that family? What about being the first in your family to get a degree?

What's that worth to the individual, as well as to society? I'll tell ya: a lot.

Higher education might not be for everyone, but we are on our way to breaking tradition, and some would argue the America Dream itself, by continuing to price a critical mass of American students out of school and strapping many of the rest with unprecedented, crushing debt. While there is reason to be optimistic, we have to be realistic too. The American Dream of socioeconomic mobility and the survival of the middle class are threatened by this severe and consistent disinvestment in higher education. In Oregon, we have not addressed this and there are undesirable long-term and sort-term consequences, some of which we are reaping today.

For those that do go college, it cannot be overemphasized that many now carry an unprecedented amount of debt for the same degree students in 1979 got for a fraction of the cost students pay today while at the same time, there is more pressure than ever to get an education beyond high school.

Some say a bachelor's degree is worth what a high school diploma could get you 30 to 40 years ago. Further, going to college full-time and having a part-time job, and summer work, along with all available financial aid for today's student is a much different equation that it was for students 30 years ago. Tuition, fees, books, living expenses and expenses like child care all add up for today's student as it always has for generations, it's just so much more expensive for public higher education students today even after adjusting for inflation.

The legislature and the governor are doing everything they can for all state programs and services. Higher education students aren't alone during these difficult economic times, but they truly are our best hope for the future along with community college students. It's also true that education in Oregon is a preschool through grade 20 type of responsibility and much like a college campus uses different academic departments to look at the same problem, Oregonians can't just look at the value of higher education through a economic perspective alone or presume that the benefits of public higher education are restricted to the individual student, and use that to justify a 841 percent increase in tuition over 30 years.

That's not justifiable.

After thirty years of routine budget cuts, Oregon public universities are simply not the outrageously lavish places with cushy jobs and bureaucratic fat cats that watching the likes of Animal House may lead you to believe. Don't let the renovations to the stadiums fool you or let the salary of an individual university president lead you astray, the campuses are and have been doing much more with much less for a long time now.

For those that may believe higher education should be run like a business, it already is; just ask a temporary university employee working without benefits and full time employment, or a student seated in a sea of 250 other students, one assistant professor and two graduate students, in a class it took them two terms to finally get into because the university can't afford to offer more classes or a pay full professors' salaries, all while the student pays more than 8 times the cost of tuition 30 years ago. Or talk to the professor or dean that is scheduled 12 hour a day and works on weekends so much they don't even know the name of their daughter's soccer team anymore. They aren't the problem; neither is the soccer team.

The issue is the balance between the state and the student in paying for these beloved institutions, and that's why tuition has gone up so drastically. Public university revenues are severely off balance. The solution is more, and stable, state investment in student learning because this is not sustainable and no one wants to put their name on an operating budget or deferred maintenance costs however much the campuses appreciate the privately financed new buildings. Thank you donors; Oregon would be poorer for it if it were not for your generosity.

More money for anything may be the last thing any Oregonian wants to hear right now but this is not the first time it has been said; the problem is just more acute right now because when the economy is bad more people apply and qualify for admission at fine schools like Portland State University, at same time state appropriations go down. So cuts are made, tuition and fees raised and the cycle continues, the state moving farther and father away while the universities keep the doors open and give students the best quality education they can just at a higher and higher price. Meanwhile, the true impact of this unprecedented shift in financing and the resulting explosion of student debt sit like timed bombs best measured in decades, and understood only after they have gone off.

Education is not just about money, but it does matter. The students have arguably paid enough when looking at the historical picture and the universities can do even more with even less if we ask them to, they have gotten really good at it over the years, but is this the kind of legacy we want to leave for future generations? Are these our values? Even if projected job growth over the next 10 years is in areas that don't require a higher education that should not be an excuse to continue to disinvest in higher education for another decade. Oregonians deserve better. Americans deserve better. Students looking at 20 to 40 thousand dollars in debt and up after school think differently about college than a student in 1979 did, able to walk away from college with zero debt. We have been pulling the public rug out from underneath students for decades while the need for a quality education may be the greatest that it has ever been in history. Our global competitiveness has suffered, but so has unrealized human potential. Not everyone wants to go to college but those that can meet the requirements and have the desire. deserve every one of our tax dollars that they are lucky to get because it's a smart investment and frankly it's the American thing to do; helping others to learn to help themselves is what separates us from governments that thrive on the dependency and subservience of their people.

Liberty has costs, but it is worth the investment.

Oregon students need your support now more than ever and anything anyone can do in the short-term is appreciated. Scholarship donation information can be obtained from the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, 800-452-8807. Donations are tax-deductible.

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    I despair of this state when it comes to higher education. I've said it several times on this blog and so far I seem to be the only one that is at all concerned about this fact: Oregon has not even one first tier research university. Portland State, which should be by all rights our first tier university, is ranked by the Carnegie system as a fourth tier institution. It has been systematically (and I don't use that word lightly) strangled over the years by the University of Oregon and, to a lesser degree, Oregon State University interests, who know that PSU (given its natural advantages in the population center of the state) will overtake them if given any gas at all.

    Oregon has chosen not to invest in higher education. We choose to send away our brightest students to Stanford, Berkeley, the Ivy League, etc. We do it on purpose, because we think that Ph.D.s and research and scholarship aren't all that important in the greater scheme of things. Our political leadership has clung with pathological tenacity to the old extraction industry economy, and you don't need the high discourse to cut down old growth. In fact, recent events at OSU have shown that education and research get in the way of industrial harvesting of timber, fish, and minerals.

    We're a classic piece of Americana here - suspicious of all that egghead nonsense. What do you learn in college that's important anyway?

    Meanwhile, the world waves goodbye as we recede from its rear view mirror.

    I will never, ever understand this.

  • k (unverified)

    Yes. However, we won't have intelligent young people to attend and excel at higher education unless we fix our public K-12 schools. Seems like this should be a priority over higher education.

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    I agree with you on the importance of higher education and on the need for further investments in it, but further investments in a new model of higher education. Higher Education needs to fundamentally rethink its organizational model, particularly the teaching component. Oregon, and its students, can no longer afford the current model of spacious residental campuses and numerous lecturing professors. Two fundamental revolutions taking place in the world are currently not reflected in the current model of higher ed: the growth of the global economy its with rising new political powers and the digital revolution. For example, with less than 2% of undergraduate students at Oregon's three premier public universities studying Mandarin, we are not even beginning to prepare our state for the 2050 global economy in which China's economy is forecast to be twice the size of the US economy. And, on the other hand, there are new, near tuition free universities being developed online. It will be far cheaper for Oregon in the future to pay for students to attend these online univeristies than to pump money into the OUS system.

    Fundamental change is needed. I, personally, have had little success in talking to the Chancellor, university presidents, and members of the Board of Education about the important, even strategic, need to increase the number of students studying Mandarin and studying abroad in China. They act as if they do not understand what is happening in the world.

    I do blog about this issue regularly on my own Global Strategies blog. An example would be "Musings on Higher Ed" (here,/a>)>

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    Dave, we just disagree on both what is happening in the world and on its interpretation and significance. Sending all of our high school students (or a huge proportion of them) to China, or even creating Mandarin as something that happens at about the same numbers as Spanish is not going to be all the helpful in my view. Nor will lotsa laptops do anything useful.

    The sad fiscal truth is that what we need is good old fashioned Harvard / Stanford / Brown etc. At the absolute LEAST we need something along the lines of the U. of Michigan, something that will put the U. of Washington in the rear view mirror. That will create the critical mass needed to begin to lead Oregon out of its powered-by-willful-ignorance cyclical economic cratering. Such ballast, however, does not come on the cheap and it gets increasingly expensive with each passing year.

    Alas, it doesn't matter. Oregon never had an obscenely wealthy robber baron who needed to paper over his name with history (Leland Stanford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, James B. Duke, etc.) and we never had a sufficiently enlightened legislature. Being a scenic academic backwater will always be good enough for us.

  • steve (unverified)

    I agree that higher education is of critical importance, however to "save democracy" it may be just as important to address the 50% of the population that is below average. These people vote, and it is important that they make reasonable choices, otherwise someone like George W. Bush might be elected President (can you imagine!). The Repubs, with their simplistic viewpoints and entertaining media, have a strong outreach to this group. The Dems ignore them. Somehow, the liberal/progressive/Democratic message should be distilled into something memorable and easily absorbed, and associated strongly with Mom, apple pie, the flag, amd Jesus, and this must be endlessly repeated in appropriate forums.

  • (Show?)

    @ Joe,

    Yes, we do disagree about the significance of what’s happening in the world, and what it means for higher ed. And you do exaggerate what I have proposed. But I don't think future historians will find your exaggerations so silly.

    Others do see the significance. For example, Sir Martin Sorrel recently appeared on the Charlie Rose show (here). Sorrel is the chief executive officer of the WPP Group, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. WPP Group is a London based company employing 100,000 people working in more than 2,000 offices in 106 countries. In his conversation with Charlie Rose, Sorrel stressed that his company is currently pursuing two strategies: emerging markets and digitalization. Sorrel thinks pursuit of emerging markets and digitalization will bring profits to his company. I’m arguing that the Oregon University System also needs to pursue both strategies for Oregon’s future.

    Note also, since you dream of Ivy League status for the OUS, that Yale President Richard Levin, also appearing on the Charlie Rose show, said “America historically has been too insular a society. We’re in a deeply interconnected world today…. Careers for students today are going to involve global experiences. Whatever your profession, business, you need to know about the world…. I think there is a learning skill beyond reading, oral expression, mathematics, that’s a capacity to understand people with different values, the capacity for cross cultural understanding…. Building capacity in our students to understand the world…. We are developing global experiences for all our students.” (here).

    The digital revolution is much more than laptops. IMHO, most of higher education has developed an unsustainable cost structure. Neither most students nor the public can afford it any more. Free online universities are starting. The Obama administration is going to fund development of free online high school and community college courses (25-30 new courses per year, $50 million per year). The era of most college professors lecturing live to students is going to end soon (except for the few stars making the video/online lectures).

    The conclusion section of the recent (2009) US Department of Education’s report “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies” reinforces my views: “In recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches. Even when used by itself, online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction.”

    The Oregon University System, IMHO, has developed an unsustainable model of teaching. The costs are too high. Online course are better and cheaper.

    So, yes we need vibrant higher ed programs in Oregon, but they need new digital era teaching approaches and an emphasis for more students on the skills needed in an international economy.

  • Connor Allen (unverified)

    As to whether we need an Ivy-level school, we do have an excellent school in Reed, and regardless, a college education is to a large extent what one makes of it. A diligent and active student who goes to a public university can have as good an experience as a student at an Ivy league institution if they work hard and look for opportunities to excel. I'm finishing up my time at the UO and am impressed by a large number of our students who are doing amazing things while they're studying there or while they've taken the opportunity to study abroad for a bit. Nor should we ignore how OSU is an economic powerhouse, helping propel the Corvallis area to be a hugely disproportionate place in terms of the number of patents per capita, a place with a disproportionately high income per capita and disproportionately low unemployment rate. Just check out this map and see for yourself.

    Mandarin? Apparently, there just isn't the demand among students. If students want to take it, I know they can at the University of Oregon. It's available.

    We do seem to be doing some things well. We could work on some other things. But to speak to the topic of the post, I think it's important to recognize a lot of decent jobs don't and shouldn't require a four year degree, and a good civic education shouldn't require one, either. But certainly we need to make a college education more realistic and attainable for people whose parents aren't rich. I'm fortunate I'll graduate with less than $15,000 debt, but that will still be a burden, and most of my peers, I think, will not come out so lightly.

  • Tim Young (unverified)

    Thank you for such thoughtful responses and thanks to Kari for publishing this piece.

    On should Oregon have a tier one research university?

    Short answer: yes. However assuming today’s testing and assessment tools are sufficient enough to accurately and fairly sort out who should go to the best schools and who shouldn’t, assumes too much. Even the metrics for the rankings of the institutions themselves are flawed. Oregon might not be sending the best and the brightest to Harvard or Yale while choosing not to invest in its system of higher education at home; they may be sending the biggest kiss-asses and adept cheaters in some cases. What’s the ROI on that? Seriously. No offense Ivy Leagues and yes people talk behind your back at the water cooler. Sorry.

    Even a person’s physical appearance, that influences some educators grading if they want to admit or not. Beautiful people, even taller looking men seem to do “better” for some reason. So, yes we do need a first tier research university in Oregon but don’t be surprise who gets in there, ceteris paribus. Educators are diluting themselves if they think the current system catches all the brilliance and raises up all of the struggles, K through 20. If it was a comical situation, I would crack a joke here. It’s not.

    “[A top university in Oregon] will create the critical mass needed to begin to lead Oregon out of its powered-by-willful-ignorance cyclical economic cratering. Such ballast, however, does not come on the cheap and it gets increasingly expensive with each passing year.” – Very well said.

    On which banner should the tier one research institution be under?

    Campus infighting over who gets this or who is better at that is one of the most dysfunctional, counterproductive tendencies I have ever witnessed. It wastes much time and energy and resources that if used cooperatively instead of against one another, would be quite powerful. Duck, Beaver, Viking, et al.– we are all Americans and Oregonians first. “Institutional ego” as I like to call it, it’s a killer.

    On Industry and Education in Oregon:

    It’s a symbiotic, evolving relationship. One could not survive without the other. If it were not for the eggheads, if no higher education existed in the country at all, we all surely would have been poisoned to death by now or something tragic but avoidable like that would have happened. However without the capital generated by the private sector to invest in higher education, they would starve to death and eating the books is simply not nutritious.

    On K-12 and the OUS:

    DON’T PLAY ONE OFF OF THE OTHER! It’s a trap and both will end up with less money if this argument gets replayed and heard again, and again, in Salem. This is literally a war tactic for conquest, dividing one group into two against one another therefore making both weaker. For the love of all that is good, even saying one should have priority over the other is divisive and short-sighted. Everyone has got to eat and in some states they don’t even think about K-12 and higher education as separate systems, they have K through 20 state boards that oversee the whole thing.

    My two cents on improvements to Oregon higher education model:

    McUniversities are not going to cut it; if we just focus on online education we all will be poorer for it. Over 90% of communication is nonverbal, so too I assert at least 80% of education happens outside of the classrooms. Chat-rooms or video links off a website where you take tests on will never replace a traditional university experience. Education is not just about memorization and taking test. We need physical, 3-d places for young mind to come face-to-face and intermingle. Introductory classes are way too big for optimal individual learning, all campuses need to become more innovative with reducing their energy costs (and then pass that knowledge onto the rest of society) and the state needs to invest about 400 to 500 million more biannually into the operating budgets of the universities just to remain competitive. I’m not talking tier one status here; I am talking making up ground and then, treading water.

    On China:

    Studying foreign languages is a requirement to even get into OUS schools; more students choosing to study Mandarin sounds pretty good to me.

    On solutions to the problem:

    “Alas, it doesn't matter. Oregon never had an obscenely wealthy robber baron who needed to paper over his name with history (Leland Stanford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, James B. Duke, etc.) and we never had a sufficiently enlightened legislature.”

    -Well, we may be surprised who steps up to the plate for the future of Oregon higher education. It could be that have many individuals with great wealth, who are just waiting. Further, it is not that the legislature is unenlightened; see what they wrote into law about higher education. It’s wonderful. The real problem is us; I’ve seen the enemy and it is you and I (maybe not specifically :-)). For better or for worse, the problems facing higher education are so big, that I am not sure that the solutions can come from Salem. I sure as hell know that the realization of those solutions will definitely not come from Salem; the solutions will come on the ballot. It will be up to citizen to fight for our future in the trenches and still, we may not get it the first or even fifth time. This took decades to eff’ up, it might take decades to fix. Focusing on Salem in not the best use of resources in my opinion because I don’t think they are the problem and even if they came up with a workable solution for higher ed. in Oregon, it would be taken to the ballot anyway.

    “The conclusion section of the recent (2009) US Department of Education’s report “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies” reinforces my views: ‘In recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches. Even when used by itself, online learning appears to offer a modest advantage over conventional classroom instruction.’”

    • Admittedly, I am not a fan at attempts to measure learning. We are corporatizing pedagogy and my fear is that in the pursuit of efficiency we will sacrifice quality – we already are frankly. Look at what happened to McDonald’s when the accountants got a hold of it. The food is cheap, but unhealthy and in the aggregate is costing this country billions in health care dollars. Cutting the cost of education in certain ways, like by making it all online for example, will have other costs down the road. Online education is no panacea for our problems.

    “…I think it's important to recognize a lot of decent jobs don't and shouldn't require a four year degree, and a good civic education shouldn't require one, either.”

    – A good civic education should be required by all citizens who govern themselves and consent to be governed. We have a philosophical difference and I respect that. The importance of education goes way beyond how people get their paychecks and to just focus on what the employment market wants from the education sector is short-sighted, a disservice to citizens and would absolutely piss off many of the people who founded this country. The world is getting more complex, the amount of data available to process and analyze is growing exponentially and a term of high school civics will simply not cover it anymore. People need to go to college, not just for them but for all of us.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Let's also have an honest discussion about shuttering some of the regional state "universities" in favor of concentrating resources at fewer campuses.

    Most obviously, some of these regional institutions are not universities at all but rather akin to what used to be called teachers' colleges. The range of subjects available to students is very limited. Faculty do no research. They're not all that different from a distributed system like Portland Community College.

    The regional "universities" exist as a result of old legislative pork-barrel schemes: put a "university" in my district and I'll vote for that water project in yours.

    Thus we wind up with state-supported "universities" spread all over what is in fact a very thinly populated state (outside of the Portland metro area).

    Higher in this thread there was discussion of elite universities. Those places are located in areas of dense population. This is not an accident.

    We've got a tax base built on a population of about 3 million. Incomes in Oregon are just not all that high. The taxes available to support higher education will always be spread too thinly as long as we suppose we can have public "universities" all over the state.

  • Connor Allen (unverified)

    The importance of education goes way beyond how people get their paychecks and to just focus on what the employment market wants from the education sector is short-sighted, a disservice to citizens and would absolutely piss off many of the people who founded this country.

    Don't get me wrong, Tim, I agree, I just don't think a college education should be necessary for someone to be a decent citizen.

    I think this is an unrealistic (and unnecessary) proposition to have everyone go to college, and really, if it's better citizens that we are after, I'd try to get to kids in their earlier years rather than in their college years, when many already are set in their habits. Building a broader culture of civic virtue will require something other than universal college education, I think.

  • Tim Young (unverified)

    Universal college education is unrealistic and let me apologize if that is how I came off in what I am advocating for. Not everyone even wants to go to college. But, for those who have the desire and can meet the requirements the state should support them as best we can. This is not the best we can do currently and we are turning generations of Americans into indentured servants to the banks right out of college, before a mortgage and car payments and raising kids etc., through this draconian student load scheme.

    For lack of a better phrase and in the words of an accomplished academic and administrator I spoke too not that long ago on a different subject, “its bullshit.” The financing of the universities through excessive student loans is not a sustainable policy. Bubbles may burst in the sector (sub-prime mortgages anyone?) and the long-term consequences are terrifying. Pardon me of this seems overdramatic but these people are getting screwed over for wanting to better themselves though education and as a civically minded person myself (thank you Oregon public education) I’m fed up and want some solutions - like 10 years ago!

    Look at page 7 of this presentation on different costs since 1980 adjusted using the CPI. It compares the costs of public 2-years, 4-years, private institutions, median family income, the price of a new car, prescription drugs and even healthcare. Public 4-year institutions top the list dramatically in escalating costs and if a person thinks that’s because universities are unbelievably inefficient or growing too much, they either do not know what the hell they are talking about or don’t want to know for some political agenda. The costs have gone up because the public has backed out of supporting students dramatically. So, their tuition goes up, and up, and up and up so the universities can keep the doors open and give the best education they possibly can, and they do that.

    What I am saying is it just doesn't have to be this way, it shouldn't be this way and there are workable solutions.

    A college education is not a requirement to becoming a decent citizen. But, we do know through sifting through the data that is sure helps an 'effing lot and if the goal is more decent citizens, let’s go with what we know works and that’s a determined focus on excellence from preschool through continuing education classes. We’re not there. It’s a huge investment that takes a long time to get rewards from but we can find example after example that education works to help build “a broader culture of civic virtue.” It may actually be the very best vehicle around for what you are describing.

    I will leave the deep and broad discussion of the costs of not funding education, to brighter minds than mine. I'm flattered you even considered my perspective and thank you again for your thoughtful response.

  • Connor Allen (unverified)

    Thanks for clarifying that.

  • (Show?)

    @ Tim,

    I want to question the following statement of yours:

    “Public 4-year institutions top the list dramatically in escalating costs and if a person thinks that’s because universities are unbelievably inefficient or growing too much, they either do not know what the hell they are talking about or don’t want to know for some political agenda. The costs have gone up because the public has backed out of supporting students dramatically.”

    My understanding is quite the opposite, but I am open to further factual information. John Robb on his blog Global Guerillas wrote (linked on my “Musings on Higher Ed “ link above):

    “For example, costs for collegiate education have increased 4.39 times faster than inflation over the past three decades and has now eclipsed affordability for most households (median incomes have stagnated during this same period) with no appreciable improvement in the quality of graduates. Worse, there is reason to believe that costs of higher education (direct costs and lost income) are now nearly equal (in net present value) to the additional lifetime income derived from having a degree. Since nearly all of the value of an education has been extracted by the producer, to the detriment of the customer, this situation has all the earmarks of a bubble.”

    I know public support for higher ed, and for students attending, has been declining generally. But isn’t the real problem the increased costs of higher ed, whether paid by individuals or the state? What are the facts?

  • Mike M (unverified)

    Missing from the discussion so far is the aspect of the true price paid for tuition at public and private schools.

    Briefly mentioned was the presence of alumni benefactors who may help build endowments at schools.

    Many private schools with good endowments temper the high list price tuition with generous financial aid packages for students in need or students of merit. In the past year, I recall a few articles in the Oregonian that described several student experiences where financial aid packages were more generous from out-of-state private schools than what they could get from the statue university system here in Oregon.

    UO and OSU do attract dollars into their endowments, but the use seems to be for sports rather than academics. Could our priorities be misplaced in the state university system? Or better said, why don't the alumni of Oregon's universities contribute more to their success?

    Improving the finances is essential not only to control tuition expense, but also to attract world class faculty, research money, and national acclaim.

    I graduated from a private university located in NY. I was fortunate in getting an aid/scholarship package that paid for everything. It actually would have cost me more to attend any of the SUNY colleges or universities. Of course, my alma mater keeps track of me as I move around the country, but they make sure I know what is going on with the school, and they're not afraid to ask for that annual gift. They seem to be doing OK, and have thrived. Of course, I do feel that I owe them a little bit for my success, so give regularly.

    Granted, I'm not aware of the details for our state's schools' endowments, but I think this is an important piece of the solution.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)

    A university system which consistently denies students in lower economic households from attending college because of the enormous costs involved goes against the whole idea of a democratic society. One of the problems is that we have played off the K-12 system, the community college system, and the university system against each other in the legislature. OEA, for instance, works for a stronger k-12 system (where their members work) and therefore a weaker university system. More money one place means less money the other place.

    I have worked for 42 years in a k-12 system and the number of children I have seen who have been unable to reach their potential and contribute more to Oregon because they are unable to afford college is enormous. Of course, they can learn to kill and go off to the Middle East in order to afford college sometime in their future. Maybe this is the new American way -- want to go to college, well, have we got a plan for you....

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    Mr. Porter,

    The blog you cite, and the data I use are from different two sources with slightly different framing but essentially looking at the same problem. There are no opposites there. What I think your “understanding is quite the opposite” is referring to is on the question of why this has happened.

    It sounds like a sci-fi novel, or a military movie but google the Delta Project. This is a good source for you to begin your inquiry into the facts on why costs have gone up so much. This organization has collected data on over 20,000 institutions of higher learning in the USA (all but the private for profits) using almost 1,000 variables I believe. It is impressive. They also have premade presentations on the national picture and other reports, executive reports, etc. that can easily be shared with your colleagues.

    By you having to even ask what the facts are about the plight of higher education in the first place in this state, makes me think I could have done a much better job while I was still on the board and at least had a vote among 11 to direct the staff on what to do. For that I am deeply sorry. I assure you the OUS is working very hard and while it might not seem like they are easy to get through too (read a little of that blog) they are skilled professionals and have their hearts in the right place. They have just been getting the crap beat out of them financially for decades and I fear that has taken its toll on the organizational psyche.

    I can give you some of my own research later if you wish, that is specific to PSU in comparison to the other OUS schools and it’s official peer institutions across the country that are used for comparison for financial analysis. But, start with the Delta Project. Happy diggin' and let me know if you have any questions.

    Mr. Buel,

    You give us, those who share this view on higher education, way too much credit when you say “Maybe this is the new American way.” This view really is an very old view that if it were a song, has just not been getting much play time on the airways as of late so it might seem new again. Or, you can think of it as a group taking a classic song, remixing it and making it appeal to a new generation of listeners. Either way, thank you for your words.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)

    Tim, I meant having to go in the army in order to get into college if you are not in the middle class is maybe the new American way. Thank you for your great post.

  • Tim Young (unverified)

    Steve Buel:

    Lol. My mistake. Thanks for clearing that up.

    On that note I will end with one of my favorite jokes:

    Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine they lay down for the night, and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend awake. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

    Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."

    "What does that tell you?" Holmes questioned.

    Watson pondered for a minute. "Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"

    Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke. "Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent."

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)

    Giving mismanaged universities more money is like burning money. This column is a joke. Give UO more money so it can start more billboard wars for the Portland skyline?

  • Tim Young (unverified)

    Conspiracyzach: Google the term "troll." It's hilarious. Now that's a real joke (nothing personal of course). Your beef is with Nike it seems. If you think by attacking this column you are doing something valiant and "really sticking it to the man" you could not be farther from your goal. Further, and don't let this shock you, if it were my goal to ultimately defund public universities and I saw something equitant to something like a peace demonstration for funding public universities "this column" and lets assume for a moment that I would even engage in dirty politics (which I won’t) – I would send someone posing as a demonstrator and ask them to cause all kinds of trouble, act riotous, ect. so that the message of the demonstration would be lost and people would be distracted by the violence and mayhem. I am sorry, but I cannot let you do that. Please, put the bricks you are throwing down, think about what you are doing, and then go about your business like a civilized (and obviously passionate) member of this community.

    One question before I go: When you woke up this morning did you know you were working for interests that hate people to get a higher education, or didn’t you?

  • conspiracyzach (unverified)

    Bricks, hate, trolls ? Whatever you say. It is also called disagreeing with someone's views. You are the "expert" on education. The O.U.S. board has put Oregon schools where they are today. Congratulations. As far as your question at the end goes.....that sounds much more like a question that you and the other O.U.S. board members should be answering.

  • Joe White (unverified)

    K wrote:

    "we won't have intelligent young people to attend and excel at higher education unless we fix our public K-12 schools."

    As long as liberals care more about the teachers unions than the education of kids, the government schools will continue their freefall.

    When I moved into this neighborhood, a few Septembers ago, the elementary school down the street had just been chosen along with 3 others to pilot an all-day kindergarten program for the district.

    The principal was interviewed by the local paper, and was asked (among other things) 'what additional things will the teachers be teaching the kids, since they will have them for the full day?'

    The principal replied 'We aren't going to be teaching anything additional. The reason for expanding to full-day kindergarten is because our kindergarten teachers wanted full time positions.'

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    <h2>The problems are more complex than they appear and at the same time, I would guess like 5% of the population focuses on politics in general let alone higher education appropriations and spending. Sorry if I offended you.</h2>
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