By Amy Tykeson and Jane E. Teater

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As long-time advocates for the creation and expansion of Oregon State University-Cascades and Co-Chairs of NOW4 OSU-Cascades, a recent Bulletin editorial regarding funding for the campus gave us pause. As readers may recall, Oregon’s 2017 Legislature awarded OSU-Cascades only $9.5 million of the $69.5 million requested for campus expansion, leaving many scratching their heads.

In today’s political climate, it is tempting to bemoan partisan politics as the reason why things don’t get done. However, as volunteers who have been working with the leadership of Oregon State University, the governor, legislators from both parties, students, and the broader regional community, we look back on 2017 as a learning experience. The path forward requires us to build upon past efforts, focus on the future, and do so in earnest.

We are tremendously proud of how Central Oregonians stepped up in 2017 to put the region’s higher education needs on the map in Salem. Supporters made a positive impression telling the OSU-Cascades story every time they traveled over the mountains — which was often. Do we have more work to do? You bet.

The facts supporting campus expansion are compelling. Central Oregon is remarkably underserved in terms of higher education. Until the creation of OSU-Cascades, the Bend-Redmond metropolitan area was the largest in the country without a four-year university. Central Oregon’s population growth rate far surpasses the rest of the state, and the rate of increase of the student body at Bend-La Pine Schools exceeds that of any other district in Oregon. This growth is the primary driver of OSU-Cascades’ enrollment, with 70 percent of its students coming from Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties.

Over the past three years, OSU-Cascades has been one of only three universities in the state with increasing enrollment. By 2020, this growth is expected to push enrollment past its capacity, leading to overcrowding and possibly turning students away.

We were disappointed that the campus received only $9.5 million in bonds in 2017. However, as OSU-Cascades is the first new university in Oregon in 50 years, we realize this is a long race, not a short sprint. Our success will require continuous regional engagement and broad collaboration — not only during the upcoming 2018 session, but also in sessions to follow. In the months since the 2017 session ended and with the support of OSU President Ed Ray and Vice President Becky Johnson, we have been working with the governor, state treasurer, legislators and a broad coalition of supporters from around the region and across the state. Our interest is in advancing opportunities for Central Oregon students and for employers who rely on an educated workforce. Economic growth in Central Oregon, which is enhanced by the expansion of OSU-Cascades, is creating new revenues for the entire state. Simply put, the growth of OSU-Cascades benefits all of Oregon.

Earlier this month, a group of campus and business leaders, students, and our own state Sen. Tim Knopp provided an update to the Senate Committee On Education outlining a $39 million request for a second academic building in 2018. It was an excellent representation of the need for, and the passion behind, expanding OSU-Cascades. Earlier in the hearing, outgoing Sen. and former Ways and Means Co-Chair Richard Devlin,D-Tualatin — unsolicited and while speaking on another matter — reminded the committee of the Legislature’s long-standing commitment to a four-year campus in Central Oregon and urged funding in 2018. “That was a decision that was made a long time ago,” he told the committee, “and I’m just hoping that the Legislature keeps its commitment.”

OSU-Cascades is a game-changer for our region. Please join us in support of the campus expansion by writing to your state representatives, the governor and legislative leadership and urging them to follow through with the state’s commitment to higher education in Central Oregon.

— Amy Tykeson and Jane E. Teater are co-chairs of NOW4 OSU-Cascades, a community outreach group focused on campus expansion.

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