The cost of higher education may be a barrier to higher education for young people around the country, and in Oregon particular, says the nation’s leading education officials.
Oregon’s public colleges have seen the greatest spike in enrollment numbers over the past five years, yet the state ranked as the fifth-lowest in the nation for the amount of public support it provides students, according to a report by the Association of State Higher Education Executive Officer released Wednesday.
Reduced available financial aid and higher tuition fees mean students may have to pay more to go to college, leaving many students like Kevin Rackham, a political science major Portland State University drowning in debt. Rackham said that when he graduates he will owe about $25,000 in student loans.
Ted Wheeler, Oregon State Treasure since 2010, has a plan which faces several legislative hurdles and would have to be approved by voters to make higher education more affordable. He aims to use proceeds from state bond sales to establish a permanent scholarship fund to help students from low-and middle-income families attend a university or community college, or to receive vocational training.
The state currently awards between $40 million and $50 million in “opportunity grants,” which are given on a first-come-first-served basis, leaving more than 80 percent of eligible students without financial aid. Wheeler said his plan might increase this fund by 50 percent in the first year.
He said that his proposal is projected to eventually triple the amount of scholarships money available to help students fund higher education by selling $500 million in bonds backed by the state’s general fund. It might use the interest earned, estimated to be about 7 percent per year, to establish a permanent fund for student aid.
In support, Mary King, Portland State University economics professor, said that students with debt tend to “put off adulthood” after graduation, and do not buy cars or houses as they used to do. And she added that we need to invest in our young people.