A 9 percent tuition increase for Southern Oregon University is hardly cause for wild celebration. But it is better than the 12 percent jump the college had previously announced.
The difference was thanks to the Oregon Legislature, which managed to find an extra $70 million for higher education in the waning days of the 2017 session. That was a nice gesture, but it doesn't make up for lawmakers' failure to address the imbalance between revenue and rising costs that result in continually shortchanging colleges, not to mention K-12 education and other vital state services.
SOU President Linda Schott noted the university built its budget on the expectation that state funding would be $100 million below the break-even level for the state's seven universities. She noted the budget was "adjusted for rising payroll and retirement costs that are beyond our control."
Beyond SOU's control, yes — but not beyond the Legislature's control. Two key factors lawmakers failed to address this year were the continued increase in Public Employee Retirement System premiums to meet the unfunded liability in the pension system, and health insurance costs for public employees that far outstrip anything most private-sector workers receive.
If majority Democrats in the Legislature had taken the tough steps to address those and other costs, they might have attracted enough Republican support to restructure state taxes on corporations, raising more money for colleges and other needs. But no agreement was reached.
Instead, they threw higher education a bone. Students will suffer the consequences.