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Dreary economy pummels PSU, PCC

No state has reduced college spending as much as Oregon

Students and staff at Portland State University and Portland Community College are feeling the pain that comes with having budgets cut drastically during the last two years.

For example:

• PSU employees have been laid off, and more teachers and staff Ñ both at PCC and PSU Ñ probably will be laid off over the next several months.

• Some PCC classes are filling to capacity seven minutes after student registration begins.

• Many PSU buildings are being cleaned only once a week.

Meanwhile, tuition has increased at both schools and probably will go up again.

A national study released last month underlined what PCC and PSU staff and students already might have guessed:

The study found that Oregon cut funding for its colleges and universities more severely than any other state during the last two years. And officials for the two schools will feel more pain because the state's budget woes will require more cuts through the end of June and into next year.

'PSU is what I like to call a scrappy institution,' said PSU finance official Cathy Dyck. 'We've managed to do a lot with a little for a long time. (But) our concern is, it's very difficult to keep morale up when time after time there's another budget cut coming down.'

PSU officials last week sent letters to 330 'fixed-term' PSU faculty Ñ those not on a track to receive tenure Ñ that they might be laid off next year because of budget cuts.

Some PSU employees already have been laid off. And PCC officials say teacher and staff layoffs are inevitable.

'There will have to be staff layoffs,' said Jan Coulton, PCC's public affairs director. 'We can't do it any other way.'

Budget cuts for both PCC and PSU have been a moving target for the last several months, as updated state revenue forecasts continually require further cuts.

But the general level of cuts that the schools are dealing with was made stark in a recent study by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.

Not enough seats

The study showed that Oregon had cut its higher education funding by 11 percent in the last year and by 12.6 percent in the last two years. Both figures were the biggest funding cuts of any state.

Across the nation, the average change in state funding during the last year was an increase of 1.2 percent; in the last two years, the average change was a 4.7 percent increase, according to the study.

Especially hard hit in Oregon, the study found, were community colleges such as PCC. State community college funding for next year was trimmed 32 percent Ñ to about $156 million Ñ from last year's budgets.

The state higher education cuts come as enrollment at both PSU and PCC is increasing sharply, which often happens during downturns in the economy as people go back to school to supplement job skills.

Enrollment at PSU grew to almost 23,000 students by the end of the 2002 fall term Ñ 9 percent higher than for fall term last year. Enrollment at PCC has increased 6 percent from last winter.

Tuition at both schools has increased as well. But more students paying more dollars doesn't make up for state budget cuts, because less than half of PSU's revenue and about a third of PCC's revenue comes from tuition.

Thus, more PCC students are chasing after seats in a limited number of classes, PCC officials say.

'In the past, as the demand has increased (for a class), we've expanded classes by hiring more part-time teachers,' Coulton said. 'Now, we can't do that.'

Coulton said it's increasingly difficult for students Ñ especially students studying for two-year health degrees Ñ to find space in certain classes they need to graduate. 'This fall term, anatomy classes filled in seven minutes,' she said.

So, students are forced to take a class whenever they can get into one, even if it conflicts with their work schedule, said Jen Baldwin, student body president at PCC's Sylvania campus. 'It's creating a lot of havoc for people,' she said.

There undoubtedly will be more havoc to come, PCC and PSU officials said.

PCC officials are considering reducing or eliminating entire programs that don't fit into the college's 'core' mission.

Tuition surcharge at PSU

PSU, which increased tuition by 3 percent last year, will add a $120 tuition surcharge for students in each of the winter and spring quarters to make up part of a $5.6 million shortfall expected if a temporary tax increase is rejected by voters later this month. The surcharge will be returned to students if the measure passes, Dyck said.

Beyond that, Dyck said, cuts will mean not only that PSU students will stand in longer lines because of fewer college employees, but 'the classes will become a little larger. It may be harder to get a class. It may eventually take a little longer to graduate.'

Some PCC and PSU students said that all of it says something to them about the Oregon Legislature's commitment to education.

'I think the message we keep getting from Salem is, 'We don't care about Oregon students, period,' ' said Baldwin, the PCC student. 'Not K through 12 students, not college and university students.'

Rep. Vic Backlund, a Republican and chairman of the House of Representatives' Education Committee, said that isn't true.

'I'm very, very disappointed about this recession and these cuts, and I know that none of my colleagues wanted to make those cuts,' he said.

But the state's revenue has declined about $1.8 billion since July of 2001, he said. 'You kind of hold your nose and accept budget cuts. It's one of those things you don't like doing at all É but it's kind of a reality.'

Contact Todd Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .