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Oregon must broaden access to higher education

To all of the recent and soon-to-be graduates across Oregon: Congratulations! Our state needs your talents, and I wish you all the best of luck.  

I hope that as you enter the workforce or continue your education, you will find ways to serve the communities that have supported you.

At the same time, I don’t think we’re doing enough to adequately support students.

Our K-12 funding challenges are well documented, but they aren’t the whole story. Despite Oregon’s 40/40/20 goals — 40 percent of students having a four-year degree, 40 percent having a two-year degree and 20 percent having a high school diploma by 2025 — our support for higher education is near the lowest it has ever been.  

As a result, Oregonians are bearing a higher percentage of the cost of attendance than their peers in most other states. For many, higher education is cost prohibitive and most who do attend our public universities graduate with debt — the average student debt at an Oregon public university is around $26,000. That’s a tough load to bear while getting started.

No one who meets the qualifications for admission should be priced out of their education. Oregon’s University System seeks to, “Raise the educational aspirations (and) achievements of all Oregonians.” To take the next step toward that vision, we must pass the Oregon Opportunity Initiative.

This November, we’ll all have the chance to vote on the initiative and change Oregon’s constitution to allow for bonding to create an endowment to distribute need-based scholarships to Oregon high school graduates attending Oregon public universities and community colleges.

I carried the Oregon Opportunity Initiative to passage in the Oregon House because it is time for us to put words into action. We can’t just talk about how hard it is to afford higher education. When Oregonians with potential can’t get the education they need to live up to their potential, our state is worse off. When we broaden access to education, we improve individual lives, our economy and all of Oregon.  

Investing in human capital is one of the very best moves we can make.

College graduates with less debt are freer to start businesses or work in start-ups that can change the world; they are more able to buy homes and more likely to feel the confidence to start families; and they are free to accept lower paying jobs in the fields that they love, serving our communities and building needed skills.

The economic benefits are clear too. Scholarships from the Opportunity Grant go to students who otherwise would be unable to afford higher education.

A college degree changes lives. The New York Times recently noted a study showing that on average, a college graduate makes 98 percent more per hour than someone without a college degree. Increasing access to education broadens our tax base and decreases demand for state services, and freeing up dollars for greater state investment in education, infrastructure and other essential services.

Getting back to you graduates. I’m impressed by your test scores — you beat the national average despite our less-than-average investment in K-12 education — and your potential. We owe you the best of our energy and efforts.  

We will have the chance to do better by you and graduates to come, in November. I hope you’ll join me in voting for increased access to higher education by voting for the Oregon Opportunity Initiative. Our future depends on it.

Tobias Read is the state representative for House District 27, serving parts of Beaverton, Portland, and unincorporated Washington and Multnomah Counties. He has served in the Legislature since 2007, and is the majority whip and the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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