Higher education turned a corner this week. We didn't speed through the turn, horn blaring and lights flashing, but we turned it, and we haven't done that for a very long time in Oregon. Earlier this week the Legislature approved the largest increase in the higher education budget since before the recession, including funds that will "buy down" student tuition increases to 3.5 percent.
This is our state's first real turn toward college affordability. It's also an acknowledgement that we cannot reach our goal of ensuring that 40 percent of Oregonians have four-year degrees if the sticker price shuts the door on that opportunity.
While the $15 million earmarked to reduce tuition is not the hoped-for $50 million that would have frozen it at current levels for two years, it will begin to shift the heavy weight that we've placed on students back to the state. It starts to put the "public" back in public education. Twenty years ago, the state supported 70 percent of the cost to educate a public university student. Today, students pay 70 percent and the state less than 30 percent.
The Legislature's vote to invest in tuition relief is more than symbolic: It makes a real difference, of several hundred dollars a year, for students who are borrowing more and working more to simply go to college. This investment by the Legislature makes it easier for students to stay in college and complete their degrees. It means that the 100,000 students currently enrolled in Oregon's seven public universities are recognized for what they are: highly skilled, talented individuals investing in their own education -- a payoff that will grow and attract jobs to Oregon and build our economy for years to come.