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Rising cost of college

LOHS student-led forum features state Sens. Devlin and Hass and LO City Councilor Gudman


REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Lake Oswego City Councilor and Oregon treasurer candidate Jeff Gudman, state Sen. Mark Hass and state Sen. Richard Devlin gathered together last week for a forum on the rising cost of college at Lake Oswego High School.Lake Oswego City Councilor and Oregon treasurer candidate Jeff Gudman, state Sen. Mark Hass and state Sen. Richard Devlin gathered together last week — and not for a major political convention.

The three sat at a skinny table on metal-framed chairs in the Lake Oswego High School choir room at the request of local students. Juniors Nora Kearns and Gillian Mair hosted the policymakers for the May 25 “legischool” event, a forum on the skyrocketing cost of a college education.

Kearns says the cost of higher education is a weighty burden, and “We thought organizing this forum to raise awareness and have an open discussion between people who are experts on the issue and students and parents would be a good way to approach that.”

The forum helped sophomore Divya Palaniappan (one of about 40 attendees), who said the information she heard encouraged her.

“After listening today, I know anything is possible,” Palaniappan said. “If I save money, I can go to college.”

The forum was Kearns and Mair’s project for Political Action Seminar, an elective for juniors and seniors in social studies that is designed to help students develop citizenship skills by running a political program of their own creation.

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - LOHS sophomore Divya Palaniappan, far right, said the forum was 'encouraging.' 'After listening today, I know anything is possible,' Palaniappan said. 'If I save money, I can go to college.'

Intros

Each member of the political trio had the opportunity to share a little about himself, with Hass going first. He said when he was in high school, he figured he’d spin vinyl records as a radio disc jockey. Fortunately, his mom directed him southward to the University of Oregon, where he earned a degree in journalism.

“I didn’t have money really, but by hook and by crook, I made it through,” he says. “But in those years in the late 70s, tuition was less than $1,000 per year, and you really could work your way through and not get into a bunch of deb. And because of that education I was able to travel all over and get into adventures that I’d never even dreamed.” (In the 1977-78 academic year, it cost $740 in tuition and fees to attend the U of O, not counting books and other costs, records show.)

Hass said it’s an exciting time in this state with the advent of Oregon Promise, which will allows students to attend community college for free for the first time this September. Students apply for FAFSA, and the state picks up what federal aid they do not receive. He said the program may sound expensive, but only if “you’re looking at the wrong side of the equation.”

“People in poverty are very expensive, much more expensive than people in a community college,” he said.

Devlin said he grew up in “an abject level of poverty,” the only one of nine children to attend college till his youngest sister returned to school in her late 40s a few years ago. As the co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means and Means Committee, he makes recommendations to the rest of the legislature for how to structure the state budget. He offered a sobering view of the budget, saying that the state isn’t looking at a recession in the 17-19 biennium, but there is still a major deficit because of cost increases from areas including paying more for the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). There is a forecast coming out on June 23, and Devlin said there also could be good news.REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - LOHS seniors Gillian Mair and Nora Kearns organized the forum, also called 'legischool,' for Political Action Seminar, an elective for juniors and seniors in social studies that is designed to help students develop citizenship skills by running a political program of their own creation.

“We could have more improvement than we anticipate in the economy that could close the (funding) gap,” Devlin said.

Hass said later in the evening that the Oregon funding model is fundamentally flawed and should be reconfigured. It currently relies too heavily on income tax, which can fluctuate, causing ups and downs like “the Swiss Alps” when what would be preferable is “rolling hills.”

Gudman said when his father attended college from 1934-38 he was readily able to pay for it by working because it was $100 per quarter. That college was a little place called Stanford University.

“Pretty amazing — it costs a little bit more today,” Gudman said, inspiring laughter in the crowd.

(Any undergraduate accepted at Stanford for 2016-17 will enjoy a fine education, and $15,777 in tuition and fees per quarter for 11-18 units.)

Gudman also spoke strongly in favor of families 529 plan, a savings plan through which they can set aside funds for college costs, with earnings that are free from federal tax. Withdrawals are tax free at the state and federal levels.

Q & A

After the introductions, moderators Kearns and Mair asked a few questions, including whether the Bernie Sanders plan to make college free by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators was feasible.

Hass says it would be feasible, “but it would be very expensive,” to make higher education free. He thinks the Oregon Promise — which has a sister program in one other state, Tennessee — is a good start. He says society does need to realize the benefits to everyone when more people attend college. Data indicates college attendees are more likely to own a home, to vote, to volunteer, and they’re less likely to commit a crime, he said.

But, no one should be saddled with mountains of debt, Hass said.

“There shouldn’t be this Sophie’s choice where families are faced with trying to make it without college or trying to make it with college and going into debt by $100,000,” he said.

Devlin said the Sanders plan has “a lot of appeal from the political standpoint,” and from the public standpoint, it’s something “that should be free.”

Yet, “nothing is actually ever free,” he said.

He said the state’s already funding about 22 percent of state universities’ budgets, or about $700 million. He said if you round down to 20 percent and multiply it times five to make 100 percent, it transforms into a $3.5 billion expense. He says the state should instead provide funding to make tuition increases more gradual.

“The ability to offer free post-high school education to all Oregonians, much less to all residents of this country, would require more funding than is available,” especially when you consider other necessary expenses, such as repairing bridges, Gudman said.

After the moderators’ questions, the public weighed in. Community member Maripat Hensel said she would like to hear a solution to “summer slide.” Hass said year-round schooling, “always popular with the students” was looked at in 2009, but the economy was crumbling and the idea didn’t get legs. He’d like to bring the concept back because costs wouldn’t necessarily be 20 percent higher with three more months because things such as utilities already are paid for through the year.REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Community member Carolyn Loch said she wondered if schools would consider shifting to a German model of apprenticeship leading to 'very, very technical' professions straight out of high school.

Community member Carolyn Loch said she wondered if schools would consider shifting to a German model of apprenticeship leading to “very, very technical” professions straight out of high school.

Hass said curricular structure is determined at the school district level.

Devlin said schools should consider adding more science, technology, engineering and math courses to generate excitement in technical fields.

Gudman said he understands that the German education model has merit, but once a student heads down a particular career track, it’s difficult to move out of it.

Afterwards, members of the crowd said they felt galvanized to action or hopeful.

Loch said people should pursue tax reform. Jim Hensel, Maripat Hensel’s husband, said he felt the same way and that it will take the citizenry to enact such change.

LOHS senior Shaheen Safari said, “It was interesting, especially since it is going to be relevant to my life.”

This fall, he plans to attend the University of Oregon Honors College and study finance or entrepreneurship.

Safari is one of two kids, and the first to head off to college; his sister is in eighth grade. And his father, Siavash Safari, also attended the event to seek advice from political experts.

“They can’t solve all the problems,” Siavash Safari said. “But, it gives us insight into how some of the funding is allocated and the challenges they face.”REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - From left,  state Sen. Richard Devlin, state Sen. Mark Hass and  Lake Oswego City Councilor Jeff Gudman share a laugh prior to the forum.


By Jillian Daley
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