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Report: Lawmakers Should Nix Drastic Higher-Ed Cuts

The budget for higher education in Oregon suffered during the last economic downturn and still hasn't recovered. (Bob/Adobe Stock)
The budget for higher education in Oregon suffered during the last economic downturn and still hasn't recovered. (Bob/Adobe Stock)
November 20, 2020

SALEM, Ore. -- State lawmakers should avoid making drastic cuts to higher education, a new report urges.

The analysis from Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged slashing funds are likely to be necessary because of the economic fallout from the pandemic. However, it said across-the-board cuts would affect Black, Hispanic, Native American and low-income students the most.

In line with the report, Ben Cannon, executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said the state needs to preserve financial aid.

"We're already a below-average state in terms of investment in need-based financial aid," he said, "and I think ensuring that we continue to support our state's highest-need students -- and ideally, increase state aid to our highest-need students -- is really important."

Cannon said Oregon has accrued a substantial rainy-day fund since the Great Recession and should consider using it to stabilize postsecondary education and other budget items in 2021.

Gabriella Gomez, deputy director of U.S. policy, advocacy and communications for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said it may seem fair to make blanket cuts to higher education, but it actually hits the most vulnerable students hardest.

"These cuts, where you 'slash and burn' across the board, just don't work," she said, "and actually, what ends up happening is, there's tremendous rollback."

The report also suggested that institutions consider the large costs to deliver education, and that policymakers support programs and strategies that advance students' ability to complete credentials that will allow them to get good jobs.

Cannon said Oregon made cuts to higher ed a decade ago, in the Recession, and the effect was tuition and cost increases. He said it's a burden low- and middle-income students can't bear in this downturn.

"Our commission absolutely supports a level of state investment that would minimize tuition increases, minimize that cost-shift to students," he said, "and in doing so, help prepare Oregonians to contribute to an economic recovery."

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Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR