The Opportunity Initiative would be used to help students pay for higher education.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler has outlined a new initiative that would create a new, stable and permanent way to help improve Oregon’s economic climate and boost access and affordability to higher education and job training.
The Treasurer, speaking at a press conference at Portland Community College alongside students, educators, and business leaders, said the Opportunity Initiative will help Oregonians be better prepared to create and fill the jobs of tomorrow while also helping to reduce the heavy burden of student debt. He also thanked legislators for their support of the concept.
The Opportunity Initiative will create a Constitutionally-dedicated permanent fund that will be invested to finance student assistance.
The new vision, which is part of the Treasurer’s blueprint to make Oregon families more financially secure, was crafted over the past year with input from an impressive coalition that includes lawmakers, university and community college officials, student representatives, and business executives.
“The Opportunity Initiative will increase the number of young Oregonians who will obtain the skills they need, and that employers want,” said Treasurer Wheeler. “I believe it is the single best step we can take today to expand our economy, to make our communities more secure, and to help Oregon families be more self-sufficient. I am gratified to see the Opportunity Initiative gaining the support of legislators at the Capitol.”
The Opportunity Initiative has been introduced for the 2013 Legislative session as Senate Bill 11 and Senate Joint Resolution 1.
“We know that every Oregonian who gets a college degree or other credential will add value to Oregon's economy and social fabric,” said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, the chairman of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. “I'm excited about the Opportunity Initiative and look forward to scheduling hearings on it right at the beginning of the legislative session. We need it or something like it now, and we need to get it right.”
“Investing in tomorrow’s workforce is crucial for our future prosperity as a state. But Oregon’s contributions to post-secondary education have withered, leaving middle-class families struggling with higher costs and staggering debt,” said Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “A highly qualified workforce is one of Oregon’s competitive advantages, but we need creative solutions like the Opportunity Initiative to help keep it that way.”
“Motivated people with the right knowledge and the right skill set are critical to our success and long-term growth,” said David Willmott, president and chief operating officer of Blount International, a Portland-based manufacturer that understands the importance of expanding access to qualified applicants. “The Opportunity Initiative will help make Oregon an even better place to do business, now and in the future, by helping ensure that there is a sufficient supply of workers with the training for the complex jobs of tomorrow.”
Dr. Linda Gerber, president of the Sylvania Campus of Portland Community College, said Oregon can help students better reach their potential by reducing the reliance on debt. “The idea of creating a revenue-generating fund to help students with their educational goals is both admirable and greatly needed in Oregon," she said.
Oregon’s future depends on maintaining a skilled workforce. The Opportunity Initiative will create a new permanent fund to augment financial assistance for Oregon students at universities, community colleges, and vocational training programs. The fund would be created by tapping part of the state’s available debt capacity, while remaining within prudent bonding limits – which will help ensure that Oregon’s credit rating will remain strong.
The cost to students of a college education in Oregon is rising rapidly. From the 2004-05 to 2011-12 academic years, the average Oregon university tuition and fees rose by 50 percent, while per-capita income in Oregon increased by 20 percent in the same period. That means tuition climbed two-and-a-half times faster than per capita income in that six-year period.
At the same time, public support of higher education and assistance has been waning. Oregon now ranks as 45th among states for per-capita support of education assistance, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs.
To maximize the impact of the Opportunity Initiative, the administrators of the program would be asked to design incentives for:
• Critical degree programs in science and technology fields.
• Vocational training and other workforce development programs.
• On-time graduation, thereby reducing facility needs as well as reducing student debt.
More information about the initiative is available at www.BuildingOregonsFuture.org.