Editorial: Mitigate tuition increases in response to student debt concerns

Though federally subsidized student loan rates did not double on July 1, several loose cords remain from the issue that are sure to complicate it. The biggest of which is that starting this month, undergraduates lose the six-month grace period after finishing school to start dealing with the interest.

And the best response we have for that is that we have to somehow increase state investment in higher education, and thereby slow the growth of our ballooning tuition tab.

And something the “Tuition is Too Damn High” Coalition said a month and a half ago is pretty on-point for what we would need to do that. What they were arguing in their march on Johnson Hall and asking interim President Robert Berdahl to approve was to advocate a legislative repeal of Oregon Ballot Measures 5 and 11, two pieces of direct legislation in Oregon that had disastrous effects on the state’s education funding.

For starters, measure 5, which passed in November 1990, limited the allowable taxing for schools on property to $5 for each $1,000 of a property’s real market value, while taxes going to other things in the budget could be up to $10 per $1,000. More simply, property taxes became limited in the extent they could go to schools.

Measure 11, passed in November 1994, though not directly amending how the state’s budget is run, did something greater to limit the state’s ability to fund education. The measure, which passed with a large majority, established mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes, and didn’t allow for judge intervention in cases with different circumstances. According to a report prepared by the state of Oregon, an “April 2004 prison population forecast attributes 41 percent of Oregon’s prison population growth to the direct or indirect impact of Measure 11.”

What the “Too Damn High” Coalition argued in June was that these measures together, in conjunction with other tax-unfriendly legislation, cause the legislature’s investment in higher education to fall.

When that happens, unmitigated, University tuition can do little but continue to grow as it has. In several other states, it’s the same way (with California leaping out as the obvious example). Compounded with the changes to loan interest rates, the problem seems to double: Tuition is rapidly becoming more expensive at the same time a way to deal with it is becoming more costly and unwieldy.

And so, since the grace period on starting debt repayment appears to be out of the picture, wouldn’t it be better to try to do the things locally that could help our state’s students do better?

Possibly, but it doesn’t seem likely. We mentioned “tax-unfriendly legislation” earlier — ever since 1980, Oregon has had a tax “kicker” program that gives back money to citizens when the state has a revenue surplus. In 1999, measure 86 put it in the Oregon Constitution, limiting the state’s ability to build up a working surplus and its ability to react to a recession.

On top of that, Oregon’s citizens routinely vote against tax increases.

So it probably won’t happen, but count us among those who hope for changes in Oregon’s budget that will allow for the state to limit tuition growth.

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