State legislature increases funding for community colleges

Paul Zito, ASLCC President

Paul Zito, ASLCC President

The Oregon Legislature will send more money to the state’s colleges and universities after a special session that closed Oct. 2, but Lane’s share won’t be enough to close this school year’s budget deficit or another shortfall predicted next school year.

In the special session, the legislature approved $40 million for Oregon universities and community colleges to hold down tuition increases, according to a news release issued by Oregon House Democrats Communications Director Lindsay O’Brien.

Lane will receive approximately $1.8 million of the $40 million increase over the next biennium.

“As part of that grand-bargain money,” said Brian Kelly, Lane vice president of college services, “we’re not going to see any of that this year. It’s all going to come next year.”

Falling enrollment this year has led to an approximate $2 million deficit in Lane’s $102.9 million 2013-14 general fund budget.

“The additional funds will help mitigate the tuition lost from declining enrollment, which is at about 11 percent less than Fall 2012 but it will not fully close the gap in our budget caused by enrollment decline,” Lane President Mary Spilde wrote in an email to staff this month. “Just as we increased our part-time budgets significantly over the last four years to deal with the enrollment surge, less demand is causing us to build smaller class schedules, affecting part-time faculty and staff … I believe we will be able to balance this year’s budget without reductions in contracted staff.”

Administrators are currently predicting a $6.8 million shortfall next school year, Kelly said.

ASLCC President Paul Zito anticipates an increase in the Higher Education Price Index, an inflation index designed specifically to track the main cost drivers in higher education.

“I’m almost positive that that’s going to happen this year,” he said, but he hopes that will be the extent of the increases.

Kelly said the issue at hand is the federal and state governments’ disinvestment in community colleges.

Zito agreed.

“We have been kind of left out of that picture for a while, especially with the amount the K-12 has been given,” Zito said. “The dialogue usually ends up, ‘K-12 is done through public funds, and you all have another benefactor,’ and that is students.”

Zito said a threshold has been reached beyond which students cannot afford further tuition increases.

“It becomes apparent that we can’t afford any more,” Zito said. “To finally get that through their heads is a cool moment.”

Kelly said community colleges are being funded at levels significantly lower than they were five or seven years ago.

“We’re in Salem a lot. We’re talking to legislators all the time,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to make our case.”

Zito and the ASLCC have been lobbying in Salem to raise awareness of the needs of Oregon’s community college students.

“The students have gotten really good at lobbying. No one is going to do it for us,” Zito said. “We figured out how the system works, and we figured out the best ways to represent the power that we have, which is the power in numbers.”

Lane Director of Governmental and Community Relations Brett Rowlett was pessimistic about further increases in the state’s community college budget.

“As far as additional funding from Salem, we’ll have to wait for when the session starts up again in February, but I don’t expect a major change at the state level for community colleges in the budget,” he said.

Kelly and Zito emphasized the importance of students getting involved at the state level to influence decision-makers in Salem.