The following testimony was presented to the Portland Community College Board at their meeting on September 18, 2014. The Board then voted 5 to 2 in favor of a Resolution giving their support to the Oregon Opportunity Initiative, Measure 86 on the November ballot.
Testimony before the Portland Community College Board in Opposition to the Oregon Opportunity Initiative (Measure 86):
Good evening, Chair Palm and members of the Board. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a public policy research organization based in Portland.
I urge you to reject this Resolution for the following reasons:
First, you have no assurance that any funds generated by the Opportunity Initiative won’t simply replace funds the legislature already allocates to higher education. Plus, there’s no assurance that one community college student will benefit. Decisions about what, if any, funding will benefit specific students will be left to some unnamed public body, subject to the same lobbying efforts the legislature faces now.
Second, even if the Opportunity Initiative helps some students in the short run, it will make the whole system less affordable in the long run. Such third-party payments from states and the federal government are a big part of the reason that college costs and student debt are rising rapidly.
I’m sure you work hard to keep student prices under control. But, to the extent that Measure 86 puts more taxpayer money in student pockets, it will take some pressure off you to do so.
Third, I’m not sure voters understand that even if the Treasurer’s optimistic investment assumptions for Measure 86 work out, income taxpayers will be on the hook to repay all the principal and interest on any bonds issued by the state for decades into the future.
Before asking taxpayers to repay those bonds for the next thirty years, you might consider how technology is beginning to reduce higher education costs.
One Oregonian who recognizes the power of the coming technological revolution is the chief sponsor of the Oregon Opportunity Initiative himself, Treasurer Wheeler. Last October in a public meeting, he criticized the university system for being…
“…very slow to adapt the opportunities around technology.” He said that “there’s a lot of institutional inertia in the university system just as there is in Salem. And, all of these new technologies have opened up new windows to learning that do not require a student to even be in the same state.” He noted that online programs such as iTunes University on his own smartphone “don’t cost…a cent” and are a “game changer” that “undercut the entire economic model of the university system as it currently exists today.” *
So, if technology will put downward pressure on college costs, why saddle Oregon taxpayers with perhaps one hundred million dollars or more in debt over the next 30 years to fund the current high-cost model?
Finally, based on recent ACT test scores, only 30 percent of Oregon’s high school graduates are competent enough at English, reading, math and science to pass freshman college classes. Before you encourage more spending on higher education, shouldn’t we find ways for our public school system to prepare most college-bound students to actually succeed there? Otherwise, we’re just paying twice for remedial courses to teach college students what they should have learned in high school.
Wouldn’t you rather see every new PCC student ready for college-level courses, rather than dump more of your limited budget into teaching them what they should already know?
In conclusion, whatever the value of a college degree is to an individual, it’s becoming clear that Opportunity Initiative state funding of those degrees is likely to cost taxpayers more than they gain. I urge you to reject the Oregon Opportunity Initiative.
* Ted Wheeler, Washington County Public Affairs Forum, October 28, 2013.
59-second answer: youtube.com/watch?v=
Entire hour-long presentation with Q&A: youtube.com/watch?v=
Relevant question starts at 52:16.