Oregon legislature adjourns, passes key UO funding and bills

The state legislative session that adjourned July 7 was, by many measures, a difficult session for lawmakers, who were faced with a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion and major initiatives to negotiate, including a multibillion-dollar transportation package and a Medicaid package to ensure thousands of Oregonians are able to stay on the Oregon Health Plan.

Despite challenging circumstances, the University of Oregon came away with significantly more state operating dollars that will lower UO’s tuition increase next year by a third and $50 million in capital construction bonds for the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Legislators also passed several key policy bills that will help the UO operate more nimbly in the future.

President Michael Schill thanked legislators and the many people who advocated on the UO’s behalf.

“Compared to where we started this past fall, I am pleased with the progress we achieved during this legislative session, but I am not satisfied,” Schill said. “Many of the cost drivers and revenue constraints that affected us this biennium will reappear in the next unless our state finds a way to reduce the costs imposed on us and/or allocates more funding to higher education. We will continue to fight for the resources necessary to support an outstanding public higher education. Providing an excellent, accessible education to all Oregonians is critical to the economy, welfare and prosperity of the state of Oregon.”

A summary of key bills and budgets is below:

Operating funds (SB 5524): The seven universities received $70 million of its request for an additional $100 million in base funding, bringing the total in the Public University Support Fund to $737 million. This represents a 10.4 percent increase over the previous biennium and will allow UO’s undergraduate resident tuition for the next academic year to drop to 6.56 percent from 10.6 percent.

The Oregon Opportunity Grant program was maintained at the same funding level as last biennium, and the Oregon Promise program was funded at nearly $40 million, an increase of $20 million over last biennium. The state Higher Education Coordinating Commission was given broad authority to alter eligibility requirements and distribution models for Oregon Promise that will likely move the program from a first-come, first-served model to a means-tested program.

The budget for 13 statewide programs was increased by $194,096, bringing total funding to $39.7 million. UO participates in five of the 13 programs, including the Dispute Resolution Center, the Labor Education Research Center, the TallWood Design Institute, clinical legal education and signature research centers.

Capital construction funding (SB 5505): A total of $264 million in general obligation bonds were authorized to finance 14 university projects. The UO received the largest investment for a single project with $50 million for the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Another $50 million was allocated for deferred maintenance projects across all campuses.

Alternative benefits for postdoctoral scholars (SB 214) Postdoctoral scholar positions are important waypoints in careers, as well as critical to the research capacity of a university. SB 214 will make it easier for the UO to recruit postdoctoral scholars and bring in more federal funding by establishing an alternative retirement benefit for those hired on or after Jan. 1, 2018. Under the bill, postdoctoral hires will automatically be enrolled in an Optional Retirement Plan that will allow them to contribute up to 4 percent of salary to the plan and require a match by the UO. This plan is more cost effective for universities, allows for immediate vesting and will make Oregon more competitive for grants.

Expands veteran priority registration and services (HB 2565): Modifies the priority enrollment system at the UO to offer course registration to continuing and new veteran students prior to others within the same credit-year classification.

Textbook affordability and open educational resources (HB 2729): Increases the number of open educational resources, such as freely accessible textbooks and videos, and makes them transferable between institutions so students spend less on books and take on less debt.

Grant program for veteran services on college campuses (SB 143): Sets up a competitive statewide grant program to establish veteran resource centers and coordinators, or expand and enhance existing centers and coordinators, on campuses of community colleges and public universities. The grant program, within the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, is initially funded with $1.1 million.

Increases protections for student athletes from predatory athlete agents (SB 5): Requires additional disclosures from athlete agents, including contact information, financial records and past student-athlete involvement. Allows reciprocal athlete-agent registration and renewal between states and enhances athletic director notification requirements.

Designation for Museum of Natural and Cultural History (HB 2399): Establishes the Condon Collection at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History as the official repository for paleontological material. Prohibits interference with existing collections in the possession of any postsecondary institution of education in Oregon.

Student loan debt education and reporting (SB 253): Requires universities to provide the following information to students annually in any form: Estimate of total amount of federal education loans student has received to date; total cumulative amount of tuition and fees student has paid to date; estimate of total potential payoff amount including principal and interest; estimate of amount, including interest, of potential monthly payment; percentage of borrowing limit student has reached to date; and statement that information provided does not include private loans or credit card debt.

Credit transfer (HB 2998): Requires the establishment of unified statewide transfer agreements between public universities and community colleges. Agreements must include various metrics, including ensuring that transfer students are able to obtain a degree with similar number of academic credits as required for students who begin postsecondary education at a public university, minimizing debt and increasing the rate at which transfer students receive a degree while maintaining standards of academic rigor at all institutions. Requires the first transfer agreement by Dec. 1, 2018.

Health insurance coverage for students during campus disease outbreaks (HB 3276): Requires insurers to cover vaccinations, even if out of network, when deemed necessary to prevent the spread of disease; requires insurers to cover or reimburse for vaccinations in urgent health situations; and creates a work group to make recommendations to improve student health care coverage.

Cultural competency standards (HB 2864): Directs public universities to establish a process for the recommendation and oversight of cultural competency standards for employee, and requires implementation by Dec. 31, 2019.

Student mental health support (SB 231): Establishes the Task Force on Student Mental Health Support to investigate the effect of mental health issues and substance abuse disorders on college education, recruitment, retention and completion.

Protecting students who are survivors of sexual assault (HB 2972): Prohibits universities from imposing or threatening discipline or sanction for the purpose of influencing a student-victim’s decision to participate in investigation of sexual assault, violence or stalking.