This is a first in state history. The Oregon Legislature has created a standing committee on higher education. To compare, California has had a standing committee on higher education since 1991 and Washington since at least the mid-90s. It’s part of an emerging focus on renovating and trying to improve the state university system.
The committee’s creation represents a dramatic change of heart for the state, which has slashed funds for the Oregon University System over the last six years. The move is likely prompted by Governor John Kitzhaber’s plans for a Department of Post-Secondary Education (another first) and his goal that 40 percent of Oregonians hold four year degrees by 2025.
In the next legislative session, the committee will consider allowing Oregon to have its own institutional board of trustees, which could give the University of Oregon more independence in its operations and administration. The composition of such a board, its powers and its place within the university system are all issues the committee would have to decide on.
The committee will also oversee legislation affecting financial aid, text book prices, bonding (critical for universities building more infrastructure) and state funded scholarships.
Post-secondary education lurked in the shadows of the legislature for years, discussed only in the education committee where the subject was often put behind K-12 initiatives. In 2007, a sub-committee was formed, but it met infrequently. Governor Kitzhaber’s re-election in 2010 has meant Oregon universities are getting more attention. The governor’s budget for 2013 actually proposes a 7.2 percent increase in funding for universities in Oregon, according to David Sarasohn, a columnist for The Oregonian. For now the new committee represent a recommitment and greater involvement by the state in higher education.