A measure coming up in the November election proposes a state-created endowment fund to help Oregon students pay for college. Coined the Oregon Opportunity Initiative, Measure 86 amends the Oregon Constitution to allow the creation of an Opportunity Fund that would go towards paying for students going to college within the state.
The current state-funded program, Oregon Opportunity Grant, only reaches one out of five students that apply for money, according to Measure 86 founder State Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
The measure comes at a time of tension in funding for higher education. National student debt has topped $1 trillion. According to the Oregon Opportunity Initiative site, Oregon ranks 47th among states in state assistance for higher education while the Legislature has been steadily reducing the state’s share of public university costs. Oregon University System and community college students pay 18 percent more in tuition and fees than the U.S. average.
“Oregon, the legislature and the taxpayers should be providing more support to Oregon’s public universities and community colleges to make it easier for students,” says Kappy Eaton of the League of Women Voters. “Setting up this kind of a fund will allow a lot more to be able to go to college, and I believe the funding mechanism that they’re proposing is a good way to do that.”
Eaton, and the league as a whole, supports the measure because they believe it will increase accessibility to higher education.
Policy analyst Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute, a libertarian think-tank, says the measure is too vague and will not be effective in its stated goals. Instead, Buckstein says, the incurred debt will put a burden on the state and the taxpayers.
“From my point of view we really should be doing more to lower the cost of college for everybody rather than subsidize a few students at these higher costs, which is what Measure 86 does,” Buckstein says.
According to Michael Cox, state treasurer communications and outreach director, Wheeler hopes to first establish the fund, and then the Legislature would continue to fine-tune it when it reconvenes in February, including figuring out how the endowment would be funded, likely with bonds, and other specifications.
“It opens up a broader discussion about higher education throughout the state,” Cox says. Measure 86 “creates a funding mechanism through which we can produce the money and allow higher education experts in the Legislature to figure out how best to spend it.”