Editorial: Higher education budgets improve on recent years

Published Jun 21, 2013 at 05:00AM

If yours is a glass-half-full view of the world, the budgets for Oregon’s system of higher education approved this week by the state House of Representatives look pretty good. Spending is up, and cuts to statewide services provided by the universities have been avoided.

The state’s community colleges, including Central Oregon Community College, will get about $450 million in the coming biennium, assuming the Senate makes no changes to the House version of the community colleges budget bill. That’s more than Gov. John Kitzhaber had sought by about $20 million.

That’s the good news. The bad news is this: The state spent more on community colleges, a total of about $500 million, back in 2007. Since then, enrollment statewide has jumped by about 30 percent, though that is changing as Oregon’s economic outlook brightens.

Meanwhile, House members approved giving the state’s seven universities some $744.5 million. That’s about what the governor had sought, though the House does require spending more than the governor had asked for in several areas.

Extension service and research in forestry and agriculture, all provided by Oregon State University, are particularly valuable statewide. Extension, part of all land-grant universities’ mission to reach out to non-student citizens, is more than 100 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It provides non-formal, non-credit programs, including 4-H, for those who use its services. And in a state with as much agriculture and forest land as Oregon has, it’s clear why research in those two areas is important.

While the vote on the community colleges measure, House Bill 5019, was unanimous, about a dozen members of the House voted against HB 5031, the universities’ measure. They did so not because that budget is too high, but because they believe it is too low. Like K-12 education in Oregon, higher education has been hit hard by declining state support in the last few years.

Still, the two bills do channel a bit more money to higher education than it has received in recent years. That may not be enough — almost certainly is not enough — but it is an improvement over the recent past. Now the measures move to the Senate, where they also should be approved.