For a state which has regained only 50% of the jobs lost and about 60% of the wages lost in the Great Recession one can hardly make the case that Oregon is on the comeback trail despite the rosy revenue forecast which came out of the Puzzle Palace on Thursday.
As I said in my most recent blog "it's the best of times" for higher income Oregonians and corporate Oregon, but "the worst of times" for the increasingly marginalized middle class, the working poor and those on the edge of homelessness.
Fellow political scientist, Melody Rose, currently the interim Chancellor of Higher Education in Oregon points out in an op ed piece in the unOregonian that funding for higher ed for the current biennium, 2011-2013, is $668 million compared to $755 million back in 1999-2001.
It's a not so shining example of Governor Kitzhaber's mantra "doing more with less."
Rose also points out that Oregon students attending public universities are paying for 70% of the cost of going to college while ten years ago this figure was "flipped." Oregon is 44th in supporting higher ed students at places like Quack Attack U and Beaver Nation. But hey we're top of the heap in NCAA football and baseball!
Rose praises Governor Kitzhaber, the business community and donors for their support of higher education. She also talks about how to cut costs by encouraging students to take AP courses in high school and taking community college courses before transferring to a 4 year college which will enable students to "skip" semesters.
I disagree with Rose who is a top notch scholar but the idea of "downsizing" the 4 year college experience will cheapen the ultimate reward of a college degree. My experience is that high school AP courses are not equivalent to college courses and attending a community college is not the qualitatively the same as attending a 4 year college.
On a personal note I was an adjunct professor at PSU from 2005-2009. I enjoyed my PSU experience but was "riffed" because of budget cuts.
Rose as an "educational bureaucrat" embraces "collaboration" - a euphemism for gradualism. Her "incremental" reforms will do little to address the fundamental problem - Oregonians have less disposable income to devote to everyday necessities to say nothing of the "luxury" of paying for a college education in the public system.
The reality is that it takes 6 years not 4 years to graduate from college. The idea of saving money by taking AP or community college courses is a false saving in quality and also in time since transferring from one college to another one often loses credits and has to make them up.
Frankly an alternative investment strategy for families is to look at what Oregon's private independent colleges offer in more robust financial aid packages compared to their public sector counterparts. The cost/benefit analysis of a liberal arts college in terms of faculty advising, class size, study abroad and internships is worth a look.
One can get an excellent education at a mega-university. But the student has to know how to navigate the system. If not they can easily get lost in the shuffle by poor advising, large classes and bureaucratic indifference.
It comes down to the fact that Oregonians, like most Americans, make 60% less today than in the past if they are among the "lucky" 50% who have a job. That's the "new normal" which Oregon families and would be college students face. Until that changes, more and more Oregonians will be denied entre to college and the "American Dream."
Back in the 1950s the federal government funded the GI Bill which allowed returning vets to get a college degree and transition from a fighting force to the work force. As long as Oregon and national leaders adhere to the illusion that the marketplace will raise all boats, more and more people will be lost at sea and the future generation will be imperiled.
Oregon can't get from 44th place to the top 10 by nickle and dime approaches. We've got to invest in our future and an investment strategy doesn't mean more tax giveaways for the likes of Nike, Intel et al. Corporate Oregon complains our educational system from K-12 to higher ed is broken. Well who's divested in the system - eh?
The last 20 years have proved we can't get from here to there! It's time to invest not in tax free equipment from the traded sector but in Oregonians and not Californians who pay out of state tuition!