College help depends on voters

I remember hearing talk about the state setting aside a big chunk of money to help provide more scholarships for college students. Considering how expensive college has become, I think that's a great idea. But where would the money come from, and is the idea even still being considered?

— James, Medford

What you remember, James, is called the Opportunity Initiative, which would establish a constitutionally protected fund to help Oregon students pay for college. We say "would," rather than "will," because the future of the initiative will depend on the state's voters to create it and then on legislators to fund it.

Here's how it would work:

Votes will be asked in November to approve a measure referred by the Legislature in 2013 to create the Opportunity Initiative. As you said, the plan sets up a fund that would one day have "a big chunk of money" in it to help Oregon students.

If voters approve it in November, the state would be authorized to issue general obligation bonds to create a base fund, which would not be spent, but rather invested to create a future revenue stream for college scholarships. The state also could fund the measure through such means as donations and general fund appropriations.

According to state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, for every $100 million invested in the fund, an estimated $5 million would be made available for student financial aid.

Wheeler, a proponent of the fund, says it would help ease the difficulties Oregon college students face. The state's student-assistance funding trails the national average by 20 percent, and Oregon students attending a state school pay 18 percent more in tuition and fees than the U.S. average.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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