Oregon has no clear vision. That’s the conclusion of a new nearly 100-page report on the state’s economic development plan and how higher education institutions across the state fit into that landscape.
Last year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked the state’s public universities to conduct a comprehensive survey for recommendations on financial stability and ideas on how to strengthen the state’s higher education system. encouraged to take it.
The Oregon Community College Association and the Oregon Presidential Council commissioned a study from the private, non-profit National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
Oregon has a lot of work to do to stabilize its higher education environment and future workforce, according to the report, which was widely released on Thursday. The bottom line is that students need access to college more affordably, and states need to pay more to support the effort.
“Oregon public agencies are in financial trouble,” reads one line on the front page of the NCHEMS report. “Compared to other states, Oregon underinvests in higher education. This is especially true for funding four-year institutions.”
Oregon, like other states across the country, is suffering from declining enrollment in colleges and universities. This trend started before the pandemic, but has continued and intensified since.
According to the NCHEMS report, Oregon colleges have two main avenues to increase enrollment as the number of traditional college students declines over the next few years. Improving high school graduation rates, successfully sending graduates to college, and increasing college participation among older adults. .
“But the bottom line is that tuition income alone will not cover the investment needed to build a better Oregon,” the study said.
The community colleges and public universities that commissioned the report said Thursday they agreed with key themes identified by NCHEMS.
Nagi Naganathan, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology, said, “This research demonstrates how colleges and universities create a prosperous and equitable economy fueled by bold, targeted state investments in students and higher education in general. It clearly shows that it is essential to In a statement, the chairman of the Oregon Presidential Council agreed to find strategies to implement the report’s recommendations.[W]We work together and with other key state stakeholders to build a better Oregon with a focus on affordability, equity, and prosperity for our state and all Oregonians. We are committed to strengthening cooperation between “
NCHEMS recommended a number of actions Oregon can take to improve the state of higher education and the workforce. These include Oregon’s policymakers and higher education institutions working together more effectively to achieve agreed-upon goals; a continued focus on equity in access to higher education; Realigning funding responsibilities for higher education so that students pay less.” Shares and states have larger shares. “
More broadly, however, NCHEMS said in its report that it believes Oregon needs to do a better job of clarifying its priorities and goals, especially when it comes to economic development. increase.
NCHEMS said calls for increased state funding for higher education would be perceived as selfish on the part of colleges and universities unless framed in the context of addressing those priorities.
“At this time, there is neither a widely shared vision for Oregon’s future nor a statewide economic development plan to provide the context,” NCHEMS wrote.
The reality of higher education in Oregon
NCHEMS reports that Oregon’s percentage of young adults aged 25 to 34 with a secondary or higher degree is well below the national average. According to the report, Oregon also has one of the lowest rates of high school graduates going straight to college in the country.
In many other aspects of higher education, Oregon lags behind.
According to data from last year’s Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission report, Oregon ranked 34th in the nation for investments in higher education.
State funding has increased by more than 40% over the past decade, but HECC data shows the state is still 19% below the national average. While the U.S. average for state contributions to higher education per full-time student is about $8,660, Oregon said he was about $7,000 in 2020.
Oregon has low state investment, so tuition is steadily increasing to fill that gap. In the 2020-21 school year, Oregon had the highest average tuition for residents of her four-year institution among western states, according to HECC data.
Many of the points raised in the NCHEMS report were presented by HECC in Oregon over the past few years. But HECC executive his director Ben Cannon said that verification by outside experts would help.
“We can expect the effect [NCHEMS’] By increasing the commitment of the public and policy makers to Oregon’s higher education and investing in higher education to build our economy and increase social and economic mobility, we can help them understand the opportunities we have. It’s about understanding,” Cannon said.
Cannon said HECC has done much work over the years to develop a shared vision to develop strategies to increase student access, affordability and completion rates within Oregon’s higher education. However, we agree with the report’s recommendation that more extensive work is needed. across the state level.
“I believe the report’s authors point to the need for a greater dialogue and set of strategies by Oregon leaders focused primarily on economic development to unlock the importance of higher education. ‘, said Cannon.
The report notes that conversations may best be led by people outside of higher education, such as the commission charged with creating economic development visions.
“Developing a statewide vision is a task beyond HECC’s mandate,” the report said. Rather, the task requires leadership, engagement, and buy-in from key industry, political, and opinion leaders in the state. “
Mr Cannon said he agreed with the report’s recommendation that such work should not be the responsibility of HECC.
“HECC is not an economic development expert,” Cannon told OPB. “While we certainly believe that higher education will contribute significantly to the state’s future economy, we have a blueprint that will develop Oregon’s economic strategy and highlight the role of higher education in getting there. The report’s recommendations for the Ribbon Commission draw from what other states have, and I think that’s an interesting and important recommendation.”
What States Are Already Doing and What They Need to Do
HECC submitted its budget for the two years 2023-2025 to the states earlier this year. This includes the requested funding for higher education, which is more than 35% more than the current budget, or about $1.4 billion more.
HECC hopes to use some of that money for financial assistance programs such as the continuation of the new Oregon Tribal Student Grant and increased funding for long-term aid programs such as the Oregon Opportunity Grant and the Oregon Promise. is. The institution’s requested budget also ensures that the state’s public universities are maintained and also addresses requested capital projects.
That budget won’t be discussed until Oregon elects a new governor and she announces her recommended budget.
Ultimately, however, NCHEMS said Oregon’s higher education institutions cannot rely solely on state funding to solve their problems. Much more work needs to be done structurally to improve student performance and improve college enrollment rates in general.
According to the report, Oregon colleges and universities are working to improve retention and graduation rates by striving to help students who are already enrolled and who may need assistance to graduate. need to work on it.
Also, Oregon educational institutions should take steps to encourage enrollment of students who chose a job over college when they graduated from high school.
“This includes not only recruitment strategies that give these students a financial reason, but also education and training so that these potential students can find programs that meet their desire to land high-paying jobs quickly. It will require a change in offering,” reads the report.
Universities must also find ways to increase student flexibility. That way, students can work and go to school without feeling like they have to choose one or the other.
The report says Oregon’s colleges and universities should work more closely with public schools to improve graduation rates and pump additional students into higher education.
“Since each university has a teacher education program and is tied to the public school system, it is in the institutions’ self-interest to take more responsibility for the success of these schools,” the report said. I’m here.
While the report highlights some of the findings HECC has already published, Cannon said there are some intriguing new recommendations.
One was to produce better reports on the affordability of individual institutions. Another was a discussion of the role that out-of-state students should play in determining state funding.
Currently, the state only counts Oregon-resident students when calculating how to distribute higher education funds.
“[The report] We encourage you to recognize the contributions that out-of-state students make if they end up staying or working in Oregon and contributing to the economy,” Cannon said. . “I think it’s something we haven’t thought about for a long time. It’s probably an amazing recommendation that we’d like to understand and discuss better.”
Increased investment in higher education could help states in a number of ways, including by driving more taxpayers into high-paying jobs in states that rely heavily on income taxes, the report said. doing.
“Oregon is underutilizing its key intellectual asset, its universities, to create a more prosperous, equitable, and attractive state,” the report said. “Creating such a nation will inevitably require additional targeted investment in post-secondary institutions. But more importantly, a shared vision of the nature of the desired future state. It is necessary to create a