Oregon Universities and Colleges Have Been Underfunded for More Than a Decade

After more than a decade of underfunding, Oregon universities have become increasingly reliant on student tuition fees to cover rising costs, says Ben Cannon, the executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission.


The State is Ranked 37th Nationwide for Higher Education Pre-Student Funding

Nationwide, public funding of higher education in Oregon is ranked 44th, and 37th for per-student funding, according to a recently released annual report entitled State Higher Education Finance which compares data state-by-state.

The report reveals that the Oregon Legislature is spending much less on higher education than elsewhere, resulting in some of the highest costs of attending university among institutions in the West.

Together with university presidents, the executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission has repeatedly appealed to the Legislature to provide more funding for higher education to help balance tuition revenue with state investment.

Exacerbating the situation is that enrollment declines statewide during the last 10 years have been more than double the national average. This has impacted all seven public universities and 17 community colleges in Oregon.

Since the recession in 2008, the state’s higher education funding model has relied heavily on raising tuition fees to cover operating costs. Ben Cannon points out that the recession forced many students to incur debt to help keep the state’s K-12 systems solvent.

Following the trend of the last 10 years, tuition fees at all seven Oregon public universities will again increase this year, making higher education in the state 26% more expensive than a decade ago. Adding to the problem is the rising cost of student housing in areas around the universities. Cannon says this added cost is driving concerns about affordability.

Sharing Cannon’s concerns is Kelly Ryan, president of the Eastern Oregon University. Ryan had to cut the university budget by $5 million (8.4%) in the 2023-24 school year “How are we supposed to get our work done in such a drastically underfunded environment?” she asks.

Ryan pointed out that it will be difficult to maintain fiscal balance until such time as the Legislature acknowledges that public universities are building a workforce and future tax-base.


Oregon Students Receive $2,600 Less Funding Than the National Average

During the 2023-24 school year, the underfunding of the public higher education system in Oregon resulted in students receiving $2,600 less than the national average, according to the report. While the state invested $8,400 per full-time student, the national average investment exceeded $11,000 per student. The report also reflects that Washington invests double the amount of funding in scholarships compared to Oregon.

Furthermore, the report also reveals that Oregon public universities and colleges derive 32% more of their income from tuition fees than most of their counterparts nationwide. Revenue from tuition fees at the state’s higher education institutions increased by 23% compared to the national average of 1.5% for the same period.



Financial aid to students attending public universities accounts for $10.8 billion of the $13.4 billion total higher education allocation, according to the report.

Student enrollments declined for the 12th straight year from 2022 to 2023, with an additional loss of 50,464 full-time students in 2023.

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