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Boost college funding

Oregon lawmakers find themselves in the unusual position of deciding what to do with an unexpected windfall of tax revenue. We have a suggestion. On second thought, make that a demand.

Oregon has neglected its system of colleges and universities for too long, gradually disinvesting in higher education and shifting the burden of rising costs onto tuition-paying students. It’s past time to start reversing that trend.

Three decades ago, the state paid two-thirds of the higher education budget, and tuition made up the rest. Today, that ratio is reversed.

Last week, Southern Oregon University announced a tuition increase next fall of $15 to $23 per resident undergraduate credit hour, raising the cost of 15 credit hours by $675 (8.5%) to $1,035 (13.5%). The increase makes an SOU education that much more expensive.

The increase is prompted by rising costs, including pension and health insurance benefits. SOU officials have done what they can to spread the pain, including more than $1 million in spending cuts by university departments in the past year.

Even if the Legislature appropriates the same amount for higher education as in the last budget, the rising costs would mean $120 million less for colleges and universities statewide. There is hope for more: Lawmakers are considering funding higher education as much as $80 million beyond current levels. That wouldn’t eliminate the SOU tuition hike, but it would keep it toward the low end.

Higher education is vital to the state’s future. Oregon must step up and meet that obligation.