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Legislature needs to continue investing in universities

As a fourth generation Oregonian, Medford native, and University of Oregon student, I have paid close attention to the recent debates around improving higher education governance, increasing the number of Oregonians with degrees, and improving and modernizing campus learning spaces to better prepare students for 21st century jobs. These changes will make higher education better and more accessible for me, my peers and my future children.

The buildings that we learn in are critical to the value of our education. Our state's leaders know that education today is different than it was when many of these buildings were constructed 20, 30 even 75 years ago. That is why in 2013 they made significant investments to improve buildings on campuses across the state — improvements ranging from seismic upgrades to modernizing our classrooms. Many of these investments came with millions of dollars of matching funds from private citizens.

But that was only the beginning. The Legislature must continue to invest in university campuses to address decades worth of deferred maintenance that jeopardize the safety and accessibility of buildings for students, teachers, and staff. These projects make our campuses better and safer to learn in, and create hundreds of desperately needed jobs, including in counties suffering the most from unemployment.

The Legislature is considering issuing funding for eight construction projects on campuses across the state. My school, the University of Oregon, is asking for state assistance to improve Chapman Hall, where I have taken the majority of my classes as a student in the Robert D. Clark Honors College.

The building was built 75 years ago under President Franklin Roosevelt, and while the red brick exterior looks iconic, the interior is literally falling apart. Last year, the university drilled holes between the second and third floors to bring additional power into learning spaces and student areas. Students who are in wheelchairs or have mobility constraints are not able to reach the professors' offices. In fact, you cannot access the second floor of the building via stairs from the first floor without first exiting the building and entering through a different entrance.

Private donors have come forward with $1.6 million in private funds to help improve Chapman, and this figure will jump to $2.5 million if the Legislature grants bonding authority. We have an opportunity to leverage private investment, improve student learning environments, and create over 80 jobs for Oregonians.

Fortunately for future students across Oregon, the Legislature has the opportunity and capacity in 2014 to leverage millions of dollars in private investments, create hundreds of jobs across the state, and improve our higher education system. There is no need to pick and choose among our campuses. Legislative leaders have shown a willingness to invest in higher education, and as both a student and an Oregonian, I can only hope that they will continue in 2014.

Garrett West, a Medford native and a 2010 graduate of North Medford High School, is a senior at the University of Oregon's Robert D. Clark Honors College and president of the Honors College Student Association.