Students rally for affordable education

Members of ASLCC and other Lane students make their voices heard at the state capital in Salem, on Thursday, Feb. 12.Photo: August Frank

Members of ASLCC and other Lane students make their voices heard at the state capital in Salem, on Thursday, Feb. 12.
Photo: August Frank

At stake is the amount of money for higher education in the 2015-2017 state budget — the rally called for $550 million for community colleges and $775 million for universities. Students from public universities and colleges across Oregon came out for the event, organized by the Oregon Student Association.

Approximately 120 students from Lane attended the rally, traveling to Salem in school buses and personal vehicles. Lane’s Titan mascot also made an appearance at the event, along with other mascots and a contingent from the University of Oregon pep band.

Elizabeth Wilson, first-year student at Lane, explained that she worked as a cashier to help put her seven children through school. She says she believes it is her turn now, but tuition is too high. “We should have the right to improve ourselves,” Wilson said.

Along with many other students, Wilson waved a sign with the digits 550 printed in large block letters. “I did get tired of being a cashier,” she said, adding that she is working part time as a cashier while attending school and it might take her until 2018 to earn a degree.

During the event, a variety of speakers, including students, teachers and state representatives addressed the crowd.

“We are cellar dwellers,” State Representative Mark Johnson (Rep.) of Hood River said about Oregon’s commitment to higher education. “Let’s start playing for the national championship when it comes to higher ed.”

Representative Peter Buckley (Dem.) of Ashland next addressed the crowd. He pointed out that Oregon has the lowest corporate tax rate in the country and higher education has suffered from disinvestment for 25 years. Buckley is serving as the co-chair on the Joint Ways and Means Committee, the committee responsible for setting the state budget, so he will play an important role in the budget-making process.

“If you drive it, I’ll work like hell inside that building,” he said.

Former governor Kitzhaber’s initial 2015 budget proposal allocated $500 million to community colleges. The Oregon legislature is working on a final budget and the proposed funding for community colleges currently stands at $535 million. The students at the rally sent a clear message that an addition $15 million makes a difference.

“It’s just going to make it that much more that I have to pay,” Kole Myrick, student at Portland Community College, said about potential tuition increases. “I’m already $20,000 in debt,” he said. Myrick, who will be graduating in June with a degree in computer information systems: network administration, said PCC helped put him on a path toward a four-year degree. “I was homeless when I arrived in Portland,” he said. “Now I’m an honors student.”

Brian Stiner, student from Chemeketa Community College, said Chemeketa is one of the more affordable community colleges in Oregon, but added that he is apprehensive about transferring to a university. “Tuition everywhere is going up,” he said. “What’s scary is once you have a two-year degree and you then transfer for a four-year degree.”

Christian Urzua, transfer student at Mount Hood Community College, said potential tuition increases will not affect him personally, but explained that he is concerned for other students. “They really have to make that decision: do they want to buy textbooks or do they want to buy food,” he said. “It affects a lot of our students.”

Lane is currently proposing a $1.50 per credit tuition increase next year, which would bring the cost per credit to $99.50 for residents. The state average for community colleges is currently $89.22 per credit.

“That little bit has a psychological effect,” Gerald Mogensen, first-year student at Lane, said about tuition reaching $100 per credit. He added that he is worried that there will be no limit on the increases in the future.

Liz Lawson says she is going to graduate from Lane next term with a culinary arts degree, but still decided to come out for the rally to support other students. “It’s going to affect so many other people,” she said.