Proposed budget frustrates Oregon community colleges

Oregon’s 17 community colleges will get a skimpy 1 percent increase in the next two-year budget cycle under the proposed budget now headed to the House floor.

The state’s seven universities fared better with a 6.3 percent boost over what their chief financial officers figure they need to keep the same service level as they’ve been delivering.

The disparity between the 2- and 4-year schools left a bad taste in some lawmakers' mouths.

“Community colleges always come up last, and it bothers me. In my district I have just a lot of kids that this is their only opportunity,” Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, said during a recent budget debate. “We need to be a little bit more supportive of the community colleges.”

Universities get relief

The $737 million budget for universities, however, brought some relief to students.

The $44 million lawmakers added will trim back the 10.6 percent tuition increase the University of Oregon adopted for the coming school year. Instead, students will see a 6.6 percent increase. Portland State University will drop its 9 percent increase to 5.5 percent. Western Oregon University will go up 6.5 percent.

Oregon State University was planning a comparatively low 4 percent increase in the first place.

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, was one of two Joint Ways and Means Committee members to oppose the higher education budget.

Community colleges still in need of aid

McLane is concerned about community colleges and also the separately funded statewide higher education programs, particularly the Oregon State University Extension Service, which has employees helping in every region of the state. The $3 million proposed increase for the statewide programs -- about 0.5 over the current costs -- is too small, McLane said.

“It doesn’t cover health care and PERS (retirement costs) and what they need,” he said. “It may lead to layoffs and impact, statewide, our innovation with agriculture.”

Ways and Means Co-chairman Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, said lawmakers divvied up the money as best they could.

“Universities, although they do have some other resources, primarily depend on tuition and what we give to them. Community colleges depend upon what we give them, tuition and what their property taxes are. Universities do not collect property taxes,”  he said.

The sum community colleges collect from property tax is expected to grow by 8.3 percent in the coming biennium, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The total general fund contribution to community colleges would be $570 million in the upcoming biennium, compared with the $737 million lawmakers penciled in for universities.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, spoke in favor of narrowing the gap.

“They have been the first responders in times of economic crisis,” she said. “They are retraining workers, training kids for high value and well-paid jobs. The disparity between the universities and the community college came as an unwelcome surprise.”

Oregon Promise cut?

Funding for Oregon Promise, a program that provides nearly free community college tuition for high school graduates, will see less money for new, prospective recipients, but may better assist students who already use it.

Lawmakers are budgeting $40 million for the grant program, which was created by the Legislature just two years ago. Officials say this budget falls $8 million short of what's needed.

This change will require legislation to either reduce the number of participants based on family income, increase the co-pay or cap enrollment, or some combination thereof, according to legislative documents.

Additional legislation on Oregon Promise went through a work session Saturday afternoon to remove the program’s annual $10 million cap for the 2017-19 biennium. The bill was amended and moved to the full Ways and Means committee with a do-pass recommendation.

Greg Harris, a spokesman for Chemeketa Community College, said students knew by June last year if they would receive money from Oregon Promise.

Because of pending legislation, it will be much later this year and students may decide to go elsewhere.

“I would think it would put students in a tough spot,” Harris said.

Chemeketa saw a 20 percent increase in the number of students coming directly from high school into the community college last fall, Harris said. The college attributes that increase to Oregon Promise.

The delay at the Capitol could reduce enrollment, and subsequently, revenue, for colleges like Chemeketa.

Contact Diane Dietz at DDietz@Salem.gannett.com, 503-399-6615, or follow on Twitter @diane_dietz

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

© 2017 KGW-TV


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