OSU's Ed Ray: State needs to step up for higher education
Oregon State University President Ed Ray made a plea for greater state funding for education during his annual State of the University address Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Oregon Convention Center.
Speaking in front of hundreds of university supporters and business people at a noon luncheon, Ray noted that Gov. Kate Brown's recommended budget for the 2019-21 biennium includes no increase in funding for the state's university system. Instead, Brown proposes to keep university funding flat, while she seeks $1.9 billion in taxes, which have yet to be identified. If new revenues materialize, Brown has promised a significant portion will be dedicated to higher education.
"I appreciate the governor for seeking new funding." Ray said. "But I must plan the university's operations on what I know, not what I hope legislators and voters might approve at some future date.
"And while the increased funding promised would help moderate tuition increases to less than 5 percent, it would not improve access to Oregon's universities or make investments in student success."
Ray noted that student tuition pays more than 65 percent of the cost of operations at OSU's Corvallis campus, while the state pays about 22 percent. The state's relative contribution has declined by more than half in the past 15 years, as state budgets have not kept up with the cost of education.
Brown's budget includes $736 million for higher education operations, and university presidents say $120 million more is needed just to stay even due to rising retirement and health care costs for employees. Community college advocates also are concerned about Brown's budget, which prioritizes K-12 education over colleges and universities.
In an interview with the Pamplin Media Group editorial board prior to his speech, Ray said that Oregon ranks about 46th of the 50 states in its support for higher education. If the Legislature doesn't improve upon the governor's budget, the resulting OSU budget reduction would hit those services that help students stay in college and succeed.
Specifically, Ray said the university would likely have fewer career counselors, student advisers and mental health services.
"It cuts into the quality of everything we do," he said.
A flat budget also puts pressure on tuition, he said, although the OSU board is committed to keeping tuition increases to a minimum.
Unrelated to the budget, the issue of mental health also was prominent in Ray's speech at the convention center. He lamented the suicide rate among teens and young adults, which has tripled since the 1950s. Anxiety and depression have become common diseases for college students.
"We know this is a problem at Oregon State. Twenty-five percent of the respondents to a student survey in 2016 shared they experienced moderate to severe anxiety and 32 percent, varying levels of depression."
Ray applauded two student athletes — Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten — who founded the Dam Worth It campaign to raise awareness of the crisis and the services available.
Ray's speech also heralded the many accomplishments OSU had in the recent past in the areas of research, academics, sports and foundation fund-raising.