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. Tim is a University of Oregon '03, '05 graduate. In 2009, Tim contributed "Saving democracy by investing in higher education".
It is hard to image Oregon without our public schools, community colleges and universities. So interwoven they are into our society, sometimes it is easy to take them for granted. What would we ever do without them? What if they didn't exist? How would that impact Oregon?
The easiest example is Nike. Without the University of Oregon, arguably, Nike would not exist. Without the infrastructure for a smart, hard-working young entrepreneur to utilize, a world-wide company may never have been created. Facebook, started through universities and someday with the right amount of magic and open door scholastic opportunity a new Intel or Mentor Graphics will emerge from the minds of well-rounded students. The list goes on where one can point to the symbiotic relationship between private sector gains, and public sector investments in education.
In education "there are known unknowns, and unknown unknowns" to paraphrase a famous US politician. A lot of what happens on college campuses is under the radar, in my experience and perspective. Out of classroom learning is huge and peer-to-peer interactions within a diversity of thought and personal backgrounds lends itself to what I would call a well-rounded education. I feel like there are things we just cannot measure in education no matter how hard we try, and that we should learn to accept that. There are still a lot of good things happening at our schools, community colleges and universities despite what may show up on the tests. Nonetheless, all is not well with our kindergarten through graduate school matrix of learning in Oregon. There always will be room for improvement.
Degrees are more expensive to obtain year after year. Many students take on student loans that requires employment to pay back. That is not all that certain of a prospect in this economy. In recent news reports, young men and women have turned to selling their bodies to pay for college. It is true strip clubs and classrooms are competing for the same demographic but does that mean we should we retract our responsibilities to our universities, community colleges and k-12 system when they need us most? I will argue we almost have already at our public universities. That needs to change.
Between the periods of 1979 and 2009, tuition at the University of Oregon alone (not counting fees and living expenses) went up 841% adjust for inflation using the CPI. That means for every one dollar spent on tuition in 1979, students in 2009 were spending over eight dollars to arguably get the same education. Image that if you went to school at the UO in 1979. Now you may be helping to pay for your kids to go and know all too well how much more expensive it is to attend. This isn't proper public policy; it is not sustainable to user fee students to death. Rather, we should help students and families pay for this burdensome cost as a more shared responsibility because of all the public and private benefits of these investments. Yes, I am talking taxes.
I almost don't care what or how we tax in order to achieve the goal of quality, accessible and affordable higher education. I just know that we need to do more of it 'cause this ain't workin'. When we invest one dollar in public universities, it has a multiplier effect in the economy which creates not only more money but, jobs. And, it is all interconnected - the needs of our k-12, community colleges and universities. Without them we would be poorer for it. With strong investments over the next 30 years, both private and more public, maybe we can change our entire state economy, and future. Please consider making a donation to a scholarship program, even if you don't have kids. Scholarship donation information can be obtained from the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, 800-452-8807. Donations are tax-deductible.