SALEM — Oregon State University-Cascades will seek $39 million in additional funding next year to keep the fastest growing university in the fastest growing part of the state on track, college officials said Tuesday.
A coalition of politicians, educators, business people and students made the case for the 4-year campus in Bend during a hearing of the Senate Interim Committee on Education at the state Capitol. Their message: A wave of K-12 students is building in Central Oregon. They need a university. Businesses are locating and growing in the Bend area. They need qualified workers and future business partners.
“The Bend-Redmond area is the third-fastest growing metropolitan area in the country,” said Becky Johnson, vice-president of OSU-Cascades. “The Bend-LaPine school district is the fastest growing in the state. There is a pipeline of high school graduates.”
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told the lawmakers there would be a spending request when the Legislature returns to work on Feb. 5. The hearing Tuesday was “informational,” but showed supporters of OSU-Cascades will take a more assertive approach next year.
The coalition is hoping a new tack will bring about a different result than during the 2017 session. The state gave OSU-Cascades only $9.5 million of the $69.5 million it wanted, with the final number even lower than the $20 million suggested by Gov. Kate Brown.
At the end of the session, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said there was not a “consensus” in the chamber of the need for another four-year state university. Brown, who signed the budget bills including the lower funding, said at the time that OSU-Cascades advocates needed to make a better case for more money.
The university was hoping for enough money to start construction on a new academic building by 2021. With the funds allocated, university officials say that is not possible. OSU-Cascades opened in 2016 and enrolled about 1,200 students in its first academic year. The campus projections are for up to 5,000 students by 2025.
The $39 million would allow for construction of the academic building and allow the university to catch up to projections of the need for a major college in Central Oregon.
Scott Allan, general manager of Hydro Flask, said having a local pool of qualified workers was essential to the future of Central Oregon, which was a key to the future of all of Oregon.
“We went from $3 million in revenue to $100 million in revenue,” Allan said. “We need a trained workforce.”
After the hearing, Allan said having workers with roots in Central Oregon was a key to a stable workforce and for attracting new businesses.
“If you hire someone from elsewhere, they have to find a place to live, the spouse has to find a job,” Allan said. Without OSU-Cascades, companies in the future will have to continue to recruit elsewhere and then have the workers move to Central Oregon.
OSU-Cascades has pointed to national statistics showing that 57 percent of graduating students go to college within 50 miles of home. OSU-Cascades said besides the Bend campus, the nearest four-year college is the main Oregon State campus in Corvallis, 120 miles away across the Cascades.
Lynnea Fredrickson, an OSU-Cascades junior, said the proximity of the campus saved her college plans. She had been accepted to Southern Methodist University in Texas. But a death in the family required her to stay home. Without the campus, she would have to leave her family or skip getting a bachelor’s degree.
“I know a lot of kids in high school who cannot leave for a number of reasons,” Fredrickson said. “They shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
Melanie Widmer is a senior at OSU-Cascades — though in her 40s.
“I am on the better-late-than-never track,” she said.
She worked in her family business and was elected mayor of Madras at age 27. But despite all she had accomplished, she did not feel completely fulfilled.
“I never lost a sense of regret,” Widmer told the panel.
Widmer said the Legislature has a chance to change the course of lives — for better or worse.
“My generation of Central Oregonians missed out because of lack of a university nearby,” Widmer said. “This generation may miss out for a lack of funding.”
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