Cost of Oregon Higher Ed Rises, Participation Declines

Jeff Alworth

Yesterday the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released a report on the state of access to higher education in the US.  The results were not encouraging.  Nationally, the US is slipping in terms of adults holding a college degree and is in the bottom half of the top-performing countries in college completion by younger adults (25-34).  Most states are doing a good job preparing students for college, but they're slipping on participation and affordability. 

In Oregon, affordability and participation have become major issues.  In the past decade, the chance that 9th graders would enroll at any college slipped from 40% to 33%.  It is likely because they're being priced out of higher ed.  The study found that the percentage of a family's income required to cover the costs of a four-year college rose from 25% to 36%.  And for families below the median, the costs are astronomical:

For example, the 40 percent of Oregonians with the lowest incomes - who earn on average $19,360 a year - would need to spend 53 percent of their annual family income to cover tuition, room and board for one student at an Oregon public university for one year, after factoring in financial aid. The report calculates the annual cost at $10,230 a student.

Earlier this week, I talked about the shift in national priorities since the GOP has taken over the federal government to the "ownership society."    These priorities mean less aid for families to offset spiking higher ed costs.  The report notes that since 1982, median incomes have risen 127% (unadjusted) while tuition costs have risen 375%.*  The old bromide that we can stop the increase in tuition through cost-cutting and better management is merely red meat for conservatives who mistrust colleges already. College prices are going to go up--the question is, do we help families afford them?

The consequences of a inadequately-educated population are stark: the research and innovation that fuel technology and commerce come from businesses with well-educated workers.  For the same reason, states have a vested interest in an educated population.  For the past decade and more, the US has invested in its investor class and Pentagon boondoggles and optional wars.  Oregon has invested in the kicker and other short-sighted tax-cutting schemes.  (Measure 48 looms as another classic example.)  These choices come at a cost--a cost reflected grimly in this latest study.  Are we really prepared to sacrifice the future of our students for wars and tax cuts?

*As with everything, the GOP sees the sharp increases as evidence of incompetence among the liberal elite who run the colleges--never mind that private institutions seem to outpace publicly-funded colleges in tuition hikes. But there are reasons beyond a vast collegiate conspiracy for the spike--see Baumol's Cost Disease for more.

  • Shane Kavanaugh (unverified)

    The Oregon Community College Association offers up the figure that enrollment in Oregon's Community Colleges has dropped 60,000 people statewide since 2002. Anecdotally, I have friends who've just graduated from the University of Oregon with $20,000 in student loans. It really blows my mind to think that kids are coming out of public universities shouldering that much debt. University of Oregon proferssors are some of the poorest paid in the country. In 2005, Oregon was one of three states in the country to cut funding from community colleges. The future of higher education in Oregon is looking bleak. It is essential that Oregon begins investing some serious dollars into Higher Ed. I'm clearly not a lone voice regarding that assessment. Gov K is talking about the need to pump more money in Oregon's public universities, as is the editorial section of the Register-Guard, and countless individuals and opinon makers (many BlueOregonians included). What really disturbs me, however, is that NOBODY seems to be talking about where the money is going to come from and at what cost. Using the corporate kicker for a rainy day fund is a drop in the bucket if we're thinking about long term investing in higher education (besides, November 6 will be the last day anyone hears about the corporate kicker from elected officials or candidates). Solely relying on Oregon's economic recovery to solve all of our fiscal crises is equally shortsighted, not to mention a dangerous proposition. A sales-tax is too regressive for my own tastes - I think most working families in this state already pay too much and get too little. Since the May 16 Democratic Primary talk surrounding Oregon's subchapter C corporations, and the fact that very few of them pay any taxes to our state, has all but disappeared. Even Gov K's Education Enterprise, which promises new money for higher-ed, seems to fail to mention a guaranteed funding source. I'm curious to hear what other people's thoughts are. What kind of public policies can we pursue to help of the state of Oregon's higher education?

  • David Wright (unverified)

    Your friends probably only have $20K in debt (a relatively light load these days) because they went to a public university. Private school graduates often face much higher debts.

    See an article I wrote back in June related to this topic. Pretty shocking.

  • (Show?)

    During the time I was out of work, I tried to go back to school so I could finish my degree.

    I tried getting loans, grants, etc.-- no luck. All the time I was out of work I could have spent it furthering my education. Instead, I was out of luck because I couldn't find a way to pay for it-- we definitely couldn't afford to pay for it ourselves.

    To make matters worse, I then found out that we would have lost the little bit of food stamps we did have if I went back to school. Thankfully, that's been changed since. We had a hard enough time making ends meet as it was-- losing the $127/month in food stamps would have been awful.

    And this isn't an isolated incident-- there are people in the same situation all over the state (and country).

    It's not that people don't want to go to college-- many want to and can't afford it. They then often times end up stuck in dead end jobs that'll never pay them enough to own a house and have a family.

    We've got to do more so people can afford to go to school.

    We also have to do something for those people who traditional college just isn't for them-- something to train and educate them so they can make a good wage.

  • Don Smith (unverified)


    You're speaking right to the notion of choice-based education. Our public k-12 system prepares everyone in exactly the same way to proceed to the college track, with a test-based education that covers the minimum information state bureaucrats call for to deem them proficient. Meanwhile, many high schoolers can't read and when they do go to community colleges, those schools have to remediate a significant portion of the incoming students.

    Allow parents and kids to choose their education and see what happens. Arts schools, Montessorri schools, math and science schools, year-round schools, etc. will begin cropping up and kids can be engaged again because the school meets their needs. I believe that all children are naturally curious and want to learn (Bush aside, since we all know he lacks the intellectual curiosity gene). It's only when they are placed in a mind-numbing environment that doesn't speak to their learning style that their minds go numb.

    OK, everyone, let fly the government-school arrows. I am en garde.

  • Jon (unverified)

    Hey you know what? I had to pay for my own school. My parents didnt have it either. Now I am paying back nearly $40k in loans. Am I supposed to feel sorry for the new group that cant afford it? Hell, most likely my kids will be in that group too. You want to fix a problem, please tell me why a full semester of tuition is nearly $2,000 at Oregon universities on top of the subsidies from the state? And it will probably be twice that when my kids get to that level.

    As for Oregon K-12 schools...CIM/CAM was supposed to fix all their problems, right?

  • Jon (unverified)

    We also have to do something for those people who traditional college just isn't for them-- something to train and educate them so they can make a good wage.

    We have a few options that have been around for years...vocational schools, the military, and this little thing called starting at the bottom, and working your way up. Especially in Union jobs.

    The biggest thing we need to teach kids is that nothing is free, and what you have means nothing if you didnt earn it.

connect with blueoregon