By Kelli Horvath: Southern Oregon University is a vital component of the Rogue Valley.

For those who read the Tidings, the Mail Tribune recently printed Barbara and Hal Tracy's letter to the editor entitled "SOU enriches the community" (April 26).

Southern Oregon University is a vital component of the Rogue Valley. Students partner with local organizations to provide our community with the healthy research and energy the Tracys mentioned. Students also contribute by giving countless volunteer hours, partnering with local retirees to increase transportation options, supporting the economy as consumers when tourist season subsides, hosting cultural and educational events, and keeping local businesses and organizations running by maintaining jobs as waiters, sales clerks, daycare providers and community organizers.

SOU is most important, however, because of the long-term contributions its students make upon graduating. Whether students complete the nursing program at SOU to enter the workforce as much-needed health care professionals or earn degrees in environmental studies, they will make positive contributions to our community and maintain this generation and the next. In addition, SOU's graduates will contribute more taxes and rely on fewer state services than those people without degrees.

Unfortunately, many SOU students are facing the possibility of dropping out of school. Next fall, SOU will raise tuition by a percentage nearly double that of the median family income increase. The Oregon Opportunity Grant does not have the state dollars needed to go far enough to ensure that struggling students may continue their education. SOU faculty and staff members may take hits in the form of salary decreases, or worse, layoffs, if higher education is cut too severely. Sadly, the short- and long-term contributions our institution, students, faculty and staff make to this community will severely diminish if Oregon's legislature doesn't build upon the investment it made in post-secondary education last session and prioritize the state's future now.

The Tracys' letter demonstrated their understanding of the contributions SOU makes. I sincerely hope that Rogue Valley community members take that understanding one step further this week. Please join us in SOU's Rogue River Room Thursday at 5 p.m. to prepare for the Ways and Means Committee visit that will take place later that evening, and wear red in support of SOU. Testify on the important contributions SOU makes to the Rogue Valley and our state. Tell your elected officials the smartest investment they can make during these difficult times is one that will allow Oregon's students to finish their degrees and continue the contributions they have already made to their communities.

Kelli Horvath is the Student Body President at Southern Oregon University and Board Chair of the Oregon Student Association, which represents more than 100,000 students statewide.