(Ashland, Ore.) — The Ashland Chamber of Commerce acknowledged an integral relationship between the business community and Southern Oregon University when the chamber’s Board of Directors voted unanimously today to urge adequate state funding for SOU.
Board members approved a letter of support that asks Governor Kate Brown and members of the Oregon Legislature for funding sufficient to maintain current service levels at Oregon’s seven public universities and keep tuition increases at manageable levels. The resolution explains the crucial role of higher education in preparing a qualified workforce to drive the region’s economy.
“The Ashland Chamber of Commerce, currently representing over seven hundred businesses and organizations, has been deeply connected, supportive and involved as a strong community partner of Southern Oregon University for over a century,” said a first draft of the letter that was provided following the meeting by Sandra Slattery, the Chamber’s executive director.
The letter pointed out that SOU is Ashland’s largest employer, its faculty help to educate future business and community leaders, and decreased state funding will ultimately lead to a loss in state revenue as fewer students enroll, graduate and land well-paying jobs. The Chamber “encourages legislative financial support for the future of Oregon through increased funding for higher education,” the letter said.
SOU President Linda Schott was invited to address the Chamber of Commerce board, and said after the meeting that the group’s endorsement will be helpful in ongoing conversations with lawmakers.
“It is very encouraging for us to get this kind of support from Ashland’s business leaders,” the president said. “It recognizes that SOU is truly part our community’s fabric, and that our university plays a crucial role in the region’s economic well-being.”
Governor Brown has included $736.9 million per year for the public universities in her recommended budget – the same amount that was approved for the current biennium, which ends June 30. But funding at that level doesn’t account for increased costs to the universities that are beyond their control – including the PERS retirement system, employee health plans and statewide collective bargaining agreements.
The universities need $857 million in funding from the state to maintain current academic and student support programs, and to keep annual tuition increases at or below 5 percent.
As recently as 1990, state support for higher education in Oregon accounted for more than two-thirds of attendance costs and tuition covered most of the remainder. State support has since decreased to the point the proportion has flip-flopped: students and their families now bear about two-thirds of the cost through higher tuition rates, and the state’s share accounts for about a third.
The declining state support has occurred despite federal research that shows workers age 25 and older who have bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $61,400 per year, compared to $36,800 for their counterparts with only high school diplomas. Those with bachelor’s degrees also pay an average of $14,500 per year in taxes, compared to $7,600 for those with a high school education.