During the 2007 session, the Oregon legislature took two giant steps forward for higher education. We reinvested in the Oregon University System with a 23 percent budget increase, and we created the Shared Responsibility Model - an innovative student assistance program that will help make college affordable for all Oregonians.

Our improved higher education budget includes several key investments, including new money for enrollment growth, reduced student/faculty ratios, competitive faculty salaries, and strong regional campuses.

The investment in enrollment growth totals nearly $21 million, a much needed boost after several years in which we failed to give universities credit for enrollment growth. We also made an investment of close to $7 million with the goal of reducing student/faculty ratios. Combined, these two investments will allow universities to provide services that will keep students in school, while providing those students with classroom environments that foster success.

Another important piece of the higher education budget is the $10 million that will go toward improved faculty salaries. Faculty salaries in Oregon currently rank near the bottom of the list, even though faculty productivity in Oregon ranks relatively high. In fact, Oregon University System faculty rank 7th overall in federal research and development grants per faculty member. Improved faculty salaries will help retain and attract qualified professors to Oregon universities, which will in turn provide Oregon students with the first-rate education they deserve.

The higher education budget will also more adequately support the regional campuses - Eastern Oregon University, Southern Oregon University, Western Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology, and the Cascade Campus of Oregon State University located in Bend. All of these schools play an instrumental role in their respective regions. Reinvesting in these campuses will allow the schools to provide more services and assist more students in accessing post-secondary education.

In addition to improving our universities, we must also confront the problem of rising tuition, which is a major factor in why students do not continue with their education. That's why we made an historic investment in our student aid program - the Oregon Opportunity Grant - and reformed the program by creating the Shared Responsibility Model. The Shared Responsibility Model, which will restore the Oregon Opportunity Grant to its original mission, is a four-step approach that includes students, their families, the federal government and the state. Students will be required to make a significant contribution to their own education, with their families helping out whenever possible, and the federal and state partners will then close the affordability gap. The Shared Responsibility Model will truly make public higher education affordable for all Oregonians.

As someone who has always made education a top priority, I am proud to have been a part of this historic session for higher education. The increased budget for the university system and the creation of the Shared Responsibility Model are two critical first steps. But the challenge does not end there. We must continue to invest in higher education in the years ahead, and I will carry on the fight to improve access and affordability for all Oregonians who want to attend college.

The simple truth is an investment in higher education is one of the best investments we can make for the future of our state.

Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin, Tualatin, represents Oregon Senate District 19. The district includes Lake Oswego, West Linn and portions of Southwest Portland.

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