Support the Oregon Opportunity Initiative: Guest opinion

By Tim Young

Enshrined in the uniquely Western American notion of manifest destiny we the people have the power to shape our communities for the better, and we love dreamers. In fact, it is our state motto in Oregon. For many, realizing one’s dreams means building a better life for themselves and their families through the transformative power of education. Knowledge is power, and in a natural resource based economy continuing to transition into a more “knowledge-based” economy, a means of making education more accessible and affordable is both beneficial for individuals and the community. That is why I am writing to appeal to all Oregon voters to learn more about, and support, the Oregon Opportunity Initiative, a measure to be voted on by the public that will establish an indispensable fund to permanently aid those Oregonians that want to pursue education beyond high school.

Education makes sense, and cents. We want people to go to school. It is good for folks pursuing education themselves, and society writ large. Studies show higher levels of education yield citizens with a lower reliance on state resources, and lower incarceration rates to boot. The list goes on. A well-educated citizenry is “cheaper” for all those paying taxes, and both Democrats and Republicans can agree that is a good idea.

However, for too many, dreams of a higher education have become a real financial nightmare. Post-secondary education has become increasingly expensive. For example, back in 2009, when adjusted for inflation, tuition at the University of Oregon had gone up 841 percent over 30 years. Today, roughly five years later, it is even worse, and most voting citizens simply don’t know how expensive school has gotten. If a class at the University of Oregon cost $100 at the end of the 1970s, it is more than $800 for that very same class today adjusted for inflation.

How have people make up the difference in costs? Forty hour work weeks only go so far, so in many cases people take out student loans to make ends meet. This is problematic as public policy, and I will argue that in today’s terms student loan debt is akin to indentured servitude, short of outright intellectual and financial slavery for too many. I’m not trying to be dramatic. With no hopes of being dismissible in bankruptcy court, unlike any other form of debt, those trying to better themselves through education are saddled with payments before a car payment, a mortgage or any of the other associated costs of living. This can be devastating and cause immeasurable harm to the individual and lost potential for society in addition.

The Oregon Opportunity Initiative seeks to meet all the unmet low- and middle-income financial needs of Oregon high school graduates by establishing a roughly $6 billion endowment that would fund grants for school out of the interest it generates in the market, for Oregonians to attend a vocational program, a community college or university through the existing Oregon Opportunity Grant. We will be voting on the measure in the next election cycle. As a local higher education advocate, I urge your support of the measure.

Tim Young of West Linn is a former member Oregon State Board of Higher Education

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