Oregon governor Kitzhaber takes the lead in making college affordable

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's plan to create a Department of Post-Secondary Education likely spurred the legislature's new committee. (Oregon Department of Transportation Photo)

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's plan to create a Department of Post-Secondary Education likely spurred the legislature's new committee. (Oregon Department of Transportation Photo)

Posted by Dashiell Paulson on Monday, Jan. 7 at 8:35 am.

Every two years Oregon’s governor releases a proposed budget that is examined by the state legislature, debated and hopefully approved. This year, Governor John Kitzhaber’s vision is clear: education, education, education.

The governor’s budget could not only overhaul post-secondary education in Oregon, but have direct and immediate effects on the University of Oregon’s building boom, financial aid and intercollegiate athletics.

Central to the budget is the creation of a Department of Post-Secondary Education, which would roll the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce, the Oregon Student Access Commission and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission into one group. The new department is intended to be a lean, unified agency of Kitzhaber’s will in Oregon higher education and would absorb many of the old responsibilities of the Oregon University System.

DPSE would also be directed by the governor to develop outcome-based formulas for state funding instead of old enrollment models. The goal with this policy is that “students who receive a new Oregon Diploma (high school) are able to afford to attend college.”

One aspect of the budget that could heavily impact the UO is a little clause tucked away on page seven which states: “The Governor, in consultation with the OEIB, is evaluating capital projects proposed by the colleges and universities based on their contribution to the state’s 40-40-20 goal …” This seems to imply that the wave of construction and renovation on campus, which has been funded through state bonds and private donations, could come to depend on how close the UO follows to the 40-40-20 plan.

Lottery funds are a bulk ingredient in state funding, but college athletic programs won’t be seeing any more of them.

“The distribution of Lottery proceeds to the Oregon University System in support of intercollegiate athletics and scholarships is discontinued,” the budget declares. “The funds are redirected for other programs in the education outcome area.” Ouch. No room here for negotiation. Kitzhaber essentially breaks any state support for athletic programs henceforth if this part of the budget passes.

Funding for the OUS Chancellor’s Office would be reduced “as responsibilities for statewide planning and coordination for post-secondary education are shifted to the Department of Post-Secondary Education and its lead board/commission.” Essentially, the OUS is about to lose its dominance over Oregon post-secondary education.

DPSE will become the new sugar daddy of the higher education system, distributing state funds to public universities and awarding state financial aid. DPSE will be responsible for the Opportunity Grant, which will be enriched to $113.4 million. The governor’s budget calls on DPSE to award 63,000 grants over the next two years from the fund averaging $1,800.

All of these measures taken together demonstrate that Kitzhaber is serious about reforming Oregon education, but in executing these policies the governor should be wary of making the system even more bloated and bureaucratic than it already is.