To combat rising college tuition and student debt, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler is proposing to issue $500 million in general obligation bonds to increase available student aid. Voters would have to ratify a constitutional amendment to create the Student Opportunity Fund.
Wheeler unveiled details of what he calls the Opportunity Initiative the day after Governor Kitzhaber delivered his annual State of the State address. The governor proposed public employee retirement system and prison sentencing reforms to squeeze out savings to boost K-12 school funding.
Kitzhaber also reiterated support for higher education investment to help Oregon achieve an ambitious goal of 80 percent of its adult population having a postsecondary degree or certificate to ensure a competitive Oregon workforce in the Information Age. That's where Wheeler's idea joins the conversation.
Wheeler says Oregon's commitment to student assistance has lagged the national average by 20 percent, while Oregon students attending state universities or community colleges have faced tuition and fees exceeding the national average by 18 percent.
"One result," Wheeler says, "is that student debt is soaring for those students." The average student borrower graduating from a public Oregon 4-year college, he adds, has $24,000 in debt, up 21 percent from five years ago.