Thursday, January 28, 2016
Michelle Glass – 541-292-8201 [email protected]
A new report released this week by Unite Oregon (formerly Oregon Action) and the Alliance for a Just Society shows that rising higher education costs, and the related explosion in student loan debt, are weakening Oregon’s economy. The report, titled Sentenced to Debt: The Hidden Costs of Unaffordable Education, combines research, economic analysis, and data from a 2015 survey of students at Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College.
Analysis in the report indicates that in 2013 alone, student debt payments resulted in $269 million in lost economic activity in Oregon and at least 2,220 lost jobs.
The report examines the negative impacts of student debt on the economic security of local students and their families, especially impacting the ability of low-income and non-traditional students to afford education at all.
“A college education is supposed to be a path to economic success and a better future,” said Kay Brooks, a Unite Oregon Board Member who recently graduated from RCC. “Instead, many students are having to choose between a low-wage, dead end job or taking on debt that will burden them and their families for decades. That’s not a sustainable path forward for Oregon.”
Among the key findings from the survey of SOU and RCC students:
►Nearly three-fourths reported expecting to graduate with debt levels between $25,000 and $75,000.
►More than two-thirds reported working at least one job.
►57 percent said they struggle to afford housing, and 46 percent said they are food insecure.
►Two-thirds said they experience high levels of anxiety about their student loan debt, including 40 percent who suffer from extreme or overwhelming anxiety.
Based on its findings, the report recommends significant and systemic changes in Oregon’s higher education model. It recommends that the legislature:
►Fully fund Oregon’s public higher education so it is accessible to anyone seeking a higher education but unable to afford it.
►Raise revenue by mandating that corporations pay into the system that produces an educated workforce from which they benefit.
►Robustly fund financial aid programs.
►Increase the minimum wage to address the shortage of living-wage jobs and increase student financial stability during and after college.
As recently as 1997, student tuition had to cover less than half of the cost of the state’s universities. By 2013, the student burden rose to 73 percent.
Oregon’s funding cuts between 2008 and 2015 are the sixth highest in the nation. Even with increases in the last session of the legislature, funding is still $55 million less than in 2007-2009. Over the past decade, Oregon cut state funding by nearly 40 percent, while enrollment increased 23 percent.
“The whole society benefits when people can obtain a college education but the cost is now borne primarily by students who can least afford it,” said Brooks. “The legislature has the chance to reverse this trend and reclaim higher education as a public good and an investment in Oregon.”