It should be no secret that the path to a productive, fulfilling life is through obtaining a college degree.
“My father told me if I want to eat, get a college degree. If I want to eat well, get an engineering degree,” said Nagi Naganathan, president of Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.
“You’ve heard me say this many times: If you don’t get some sort of higher education, you are going to be poor,” added Roberto Gutierrez, president of Klamath Community college.
It’s also true that Southern Oregon suffers more than the rest of the state in attracting new industry simply because it had a less-educated workforce, less college degrees than most.
Naganathan, Gutierrez and Linda Schott, president of Southern Oregon University in Ashland, met with the Herald and News Editorial board last week to make their case for more state funding for the university system.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is proposing two budget options for the universities. The first is a flat budget, the same as the last two years; or have the Legislature approve a massive $2 billion spending package, including more than $580 million of new money for the colleges for the biennium. It is hoped that would keep tuition increases to a minimum and restore some programs.
If a flat budget wins the day, OIT will be $8 million in the hole without raising tuition, Naganathan said. There is already a $2 million in mandated costs the college is facing. The community colleges in total would get $24 million less.
“This would place a burden on our students and we are already running pretty lean at KCC,” Gutierrez noted.
“What we are asking the Legislature for is to reinvest in public, higher education because we believe that is a great value; we operate efficiently and are serving the rural communities where much of Oregon would not have access to higher education,” said SOU’s Schott.
SOU culled its faculty and other costs twice during two recent rounds of retrenchment.
“If we (the entire university system) get an additional $120 million from the state, we will be able to keep tuition increases to just under 5 percent,” she said. “If not, tuition increases will hit double digits.” And she noted that college students are already taking on too much student loan deb;, money that could have been put back into local economies in terms of buying homes and services.
Hence SOU, KCC, OIT and Rogue Community College formed a Southern Oregon Higher Education Consortium, not for the sole purpose of speaking with one voice at the Legislature, but to attract and keep students in Southern Oregon by making it much easier to transfer among the schools, without loss of credits.
But it doesn’t hurt when lobbying the Legislature, either. The consortium has a combined enrollment of 26,700 students — the size of a major university; it’s awarded more than 3,300 degrees; it is graduating nearly 50 percent of students who are first-time college graduates in their family.
The economic footprint of the four schools combined is $400 million, while the state investment is $68 million.
The Herald and News supports the consortium’s efforts and here’s why:
1. There has been a lot of groundwork done in Klamath County to get high school seniors to not only graduate, but move on to at least two years of college;
2. The economic development forces in the community are also unified in supporting higher education; without it, attracting industry is difficult;
3. The colleges are much more nimble in providing the type of training that businesses are seeking, from the trades to engineering. With the consortium, students have a wide swath of opportunity from which to choose;
4. Klamath County has made a name for itself around the state of working together to solve the tough problems in education, health and welfare and job creation.
5. A college degree is a keystone to success. Making college affordable is key to getting more to join the ranks of the college-educated and find jobs.
Southern Oregon needs the support from Salem and we hope the lawmakers see fit to fully fund the university system.