oregon state captiol

Oregon's state government has failed to lower greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with their projected timeline. (Wikimedia Commons/M.O. Stevens) 

UO Advocates hosted a virtual UO Day at the Capitol last Tuesday where students, faculty and alumni lobbied for Oregon legislators to expand funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant and the Public University Support Fund as well as legislation to support UO and students’ basic needs. 

Over 100 advocates attended, dividing into 32 meetings with legislators. The advocates asked legislators to increase funding for the OOG from just below $150 million to at least $200 million. They also asked for the PUSF to increase from $837 million to $900 million.

The PUSF is the primary fund for state support of operational expenses across Oregon’s seven public universities. 

The OOG is the state’s largest funded, need-based grant program for college students. Approximately 40,000 Oregon students receive the grant annually, according to OSAC’s website

Some argue that state-funded higher education programs have not kept up with rising costs of college. Thus, advocates asked for increased funding in the 2021-23 state budget. This would potentially increase the number of eligible recipients and allocation size.

Associate director of advocacy Kimberly Koops said the reaction from legislators was overwhelmingly positive.

“I don’t know how you could have timed your virtual University of Oregon Day at the Capitol any better,” Gov. Kate Brown said to the advocates at an orientation. “As you’re probably aware, we’ve just received the revenue forecast, and it is very very clear that lawmakers have the resources necessary to invest $900 million in the PUSF and to increase funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant.”

Oregon’s department of administrative services released the state’s economic and revenue forecast on May 19. It was Oregon’s most positive revenue forecast since 1984, largely thanks to federal fiscal policy, such as the CARES act and relief packages.

Advocates gave speeches in an orientation and a legislative briefing before the event, citing many reasons for a need to increase funding and pass legislation on a state level.  

Jim Brooks, associate vice president and director of student financial aid and scholarships, said, “I’ve been fortunate to work in several states, and I can say that the challenges that college students face in paying for college here in the state of Oregon are not specific to Oregon, but they seem greater due to the funding levels for higher education in general and funding levels for student aid.” 

He also said most of UO’s student aid comes from federal student aid. Associate vice president for student life Kris Winter said the university is grateful for the federal funds it receives, but that they leave out many students who do not qualify for federal aid, such as DACA recipients, international students and students whose financial eligibility status changed past the deadline. 

“It is devastating to have a student in my office share their story and to know that $500 stands between them deciding if they’re going to stay enrolled in college or if they’re going to drop out because they need to be able to pay for rent and food, and they can’t juggle both,” Winter said. “I just want to write them a check of my own, and I know I can’t do that.”

Winters helped create the Student Crisis Fund four years ago, which acts as emergency support to students with financial need at UO. Private donors have contributed $1.4 million since March of 2020, Winters said. 

ASUO used Incidental Fee funding to create a basic needs program for the 2021-22 academic year, which will include subsidies for textbooks, emergency housing and childcare; the creation of a basic needs coordinator and a food security coordinator; and a 20% wage increase for I-Fee funded student jobs.

“The reality is student financial aid programs haven’t kept up with the rising cost of college,” said ASUO president Isaiah Boyd. “This has left many students, myself included, with a crushing debt load and a near insurmountable obstacle to attend college and finish a degree.”

Advocates also lobbied for HB 2835, which would require community colleges and public universities to hire a benefits navigator. The bill passed unanimously in the House Committee On Education and currently sits in the Committee On Ways and Means. 

“It’s hard to ask when you don’t know where to go. I love the idea of this not only because of the work that they’re doing, but it makes it really clear to students on where they can go for support,” Winter said. 

UO’s 2021 State Legislative Agenda said the ability of students to meet basic needs is an equity issue, citing racial and ethnic disparities in basic needs insecurity.

“I think anything that helps us with cost will greatly help in that regard,” Brooks said about diversity and inclusion initiatives.  

Koops said students are taking advantage of a virtual UO Day at the Capitol and advocated in strong numbers. 

 “In a non-pandemic session that’s in person, to be able to do all those things, they’d have to take time off of work and time off of class to drive an hour to Salem,” said Koops. 

UO advocated for increased funding of the PUSF and the OOG during the 2019 Oregon legislative session. Legislators allocated additional funding for both. 

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 3 to correct the spelling of Jim Brooks' name.