Oregon business leaders are calling for bigger state investments in higher education — a priority backed by the head of the state’s largest university at the annual Oregon Leadership Summit held Monday. The newly updated Oregon Business Plan identified education for the jobs of the future as a key imperative.
“Education policy is in fact, economic policy — it really is the same thing,” said Oregon State University president Jayathi Murthy in a question-and-answer session at Monday’s summit.
In her answers, Murthy lamented that Oregon lags in terms of state investment in higher education, compared with other states. It’s a problem the Oregon Business Plan also pointed out in its policy document on postsecondary education.
“Oregon’s two financial aid programs, the Oregon Opportunity Grant and Oregon Promise, delivered $657 per full-time student in 2020,” noted a one-page policy summary on higher education. “That’s well below the U.S. average of $830, and less than half of the $1,489 provided in Washington State.”
Murthy said such disparities are depriving Oregonians of opportunities.
“Look, investments in higher ed are investments in our future and if you don’t invest in higher ed you’re basically giving that future away,” Murthy said. “We haven’t, in my view, invested sufficiently.”
The business plan recommends a redesigned financial aid system to encourage “high school completion and increase postsecondary attendance and completion rates.” It specifies three specific policies, including a greater investment in existing financial aid programs, specifically the Oregon Opportunity Grant.
In addition, the business group suggests starting two new programs. It suggests putting money into college saving accounts for high school students who hit certain benchmarks, which are not specified in the group’s one-page summary.
The group also recommends launching what it calls “lifelong learning grants” meant to help adults pursue degrees to transition to new careers.
Architects of the Oregon Business Plan have seen previous priorities around higher education and workforce training find support in Salem. The group’s two-page strategy document notes that it backed the Future Ready Oregon effort, a $200 million spending package lawmakers approved earlier this year. It’s meant to help prepare historically underserved people for well-paying jobs in high-demand fields such as manufacturing, health care and technology.