In an interview on Jan. 20, Lane president Mary Spilde said that the Obama proposal for making community college free has put the spotlight on community colleges. “It says that secondary education beyond high school is critical for the economic competitiveness of this country,” she said.
Acknowledging that the details aren’t worked out, and that there’s no identified money to make the initiative a reality, Spilde commented that one of the benefits of the proposal is that there will be a bill in the legislature for free community college in Oregon. She added, however, that tax reform would be a necessary component.
“The rest of it is marginal, the programs [cutting programs at Lane] are marginal solutions that don’t really solve the problem that we are under-resourced in community colleges [and have been] for more than a decade.”
“Unless we are willing to really talk about serious tax reform in the state of Oregon, I don’t see how it can work,” Spilde said. “Even the additional $35 million that we got from the co-chairs came out of human services, and that impacts our students as well.” Without human services, she offered, whether it’s the SNAP program or mental health support, that can affect Lane’s student population’s ability to stay in school; everything is linked together.
Most other states have broader tax bases commented Spilde. “They’ve got sales tax, which nobody wants to talk about in Oregon, and they’ve got income tax, and they’ve got property tax, and its more balanced. And we don’t have that in Oregon.”
“We [the state] are spending more on those most likely to succeed and the least on those who are least likely to succeed. And I think those of us who work in community colleges believe that the least likely to succeed deserve a shot at entering the economic mainstream,” Spilde said.
Not allowing that to happen, she emphasized, impacts everyone; having people in our community who are homeless and hungry creates social service and corrections costs. “When you look at the big picture of the cost, we are paying one way or the other. Let’s make the investments where its going to do the most good.”
When people don’t have what they need, there are consequences, Spilde said. “This is a big knotty problem that will need multiple solutions, and we just happen, at Lane, to be caught up in that and not getting enough resources, and it’s up to us to figure out how are we going to manage this.”
Commenting on the state’s funding for building new prisons, she said that increasing the corrections infrastructure is a cost to the whole system. “If we had some of that money we could do it cheaper — keeping people out of prison. We already do, by helping them be productive citizens. That seems to me to be a better use of funds, but there was this whole spate across the country of investing in the prison complex, and Oregon has been a part of that.”
Regarding the upcoming college budget, Spilde said that it won’t be as bad as last year, but it’s not going to be an easy budget either.