Legislature ends session with gains for higher education

The Oregon Legislature has wrapped up its 2021 session after making some important investments in higher education.

Lawmakers approved a requested $900 million for the Public University Support Fund, $703 million for the Community College Support Fund, and an increase for the Oregon Opportunity Grant.

“The increased funding for public universities will provide much-needed financial stability for the university,” said Hans Bernard, associate vice president for state affairs. “The UO still faces significant financial uncertainty associated with enrollment, and the state funding provided by the Legislature is critical to the university moving forward post-pandemic.”

In addition to increasing operating funds for public universities and community colleges, lawmakers also boosted funding and passed legislation to address access and affordability for students at the UO. Highlights include:

  • $200 million for the Oregon Opportunity Grant — the state’s main need-based aid program for college and university students — a $28.8 million increase.
  • Approval of a basic needs navigator bill, which requires and funds a benefits navigator position on every university and college campus to help students determine eligibility and apply for federal, state and local benefits programs, such as food and housing assistance grants.
  • Approval of a course material/textbook transparency bill, which requires each public university and community college to display the total cost of all required course materials and fees for no less than 75 percent of total courses offered beginning in 2022-23.

“When we began planning for this session the state faced significant financial uncertainty, and we were preparing for cuts,” UO President Michael H. Schill said. “Improving revenues, and lawmakers’ commitment to the UO and our students, resulted in investments in higher education that will be crucial as we return to in-person instruction this fall. We are grateful that Oregon lawmakers continue to protect and improve funding for the University of Oregon.”

The work of the Legislature focused on responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, addressing issues of systemic racial and wealth inequity, wildfire recovery and mitigation, and balancing a budget. The session was conducted in a Capitol building closed to the public, with hearings occurring remotely and all participation by members of the public and lobbyists taking place virtually.

Stronger than expected state revenue collections and a large influx of funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act also allowed the Legislature to make significant investments in housing, behavioral health, wildfire policy and recovery.

Lawmakers are scheduled to convene again for one week in September to consider a legislative redistricting plan that was delayed because of the effect COVID-19 had on the national census. The next regular session of the Oregon Legislature will begin in February 2022.