Kulongoski restores $13.4 million to public universities

Gov. Ted Kulongoski followed through with his plans to restore $13.4 million of general funds to the public universities system, vetoing a bill that would have transferred that amount from higher education funding to state agencies.

The reinstated funding will enable Oregon University System campuses to reduce the estimated 2009-10 tuition by 1 percent. Plans of the governor’s veto were announced in July, prior to the State Board of Higher Education’s meeting to discuss tuition hikes.

“I am deeply concerned that this provision would force the University system to raise tuition,” Kulongsoki wrote in a letter to the state Justice Department explaining his veto, ” which when combined with the underfunding of the Oregon Opportunity Grant program in the legislatively adopted budget, will operate to make higher education less accessible for many low-income and middle-income Oregonians.”

Di Saunders, director of communications at OUS, said that although this refund keeps the tuition increases slightly lower statewide, the overall OUS budget is still cut significantly. “The revenue forecast is the driver in the tuition hikes, predicting a continual drop of funding,” she said, “and unfortunately, students must make up for the loss through tuition and fees.”

With a rise in tuition, state universities must keep potential applicants interested with new sources of scholarships and advising committees. The College Access Challenge Grant, funded by the federal government, is assisting OUS in educating and preparing the uninformed about getting into state universities during the current economic crisis, regardless of their income levels or age.

“We’re starting our ad campaign and telephone help line in September,” Saunders said. “It’s so important to let the public know that they can still attend college in a recession, and we can help them get there.” Saunders explained how OUS will additionally start a “train the trainer” program, which will provide high school and community college advisors with the up-to-date information they need to know to adequately assist their students.

Expected state tuition hikes for the upcoming fall terms range from 3.5 to 15.4 percent from fall 2008, with the University of Oregon at the highest end at $7,428 for in-state tuition, and $22,328 for the School of Law. Higher education is “in a much more dire situation than many state agencies,” Kulongoski spokesperson Anna Richter Taylor said. “It’s not unlikely they’ll have to make even bigger cuts.”

In addition to the Aug. 6 veto, Kulongoski also returned $6.3 million of funding to the Oregon judicial system from state agencies, saying the budget cut would jeopardize the branch’s ability to run an accessible and respectable court system.

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