As one of the advocates for creating separate governing boards for Oregon’s universities, I was pleased to note the apparent success The Oregonian/OregonLive reported about the initial operation of these boards. The article also noted that the Legislature had allocated a “record $665 million in general state support … for the 2015-17 biennium.”
While Oregonians may take some satisfaction in this “record” appropriation to higher education, it may also be useful to put that number into a comparative context. We might ask ourselves: What do other states with similar populations and state budgets spend on public higher education?
The answer is disquieting.
The “Distribution of State General Fund Expenditures” compiled for the most recent year of available data, 2014, by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, provides a comparison of state expenditures.
In 2014, Oregon, with a population of 3.9 million, had total state expenditures of $7.9 billion; it spent $347 million on higher education, less than half of the $885 million it spent on corrections. Oregon ranked 26th in total expenditures, but it ranked 41st in expenditures for higher education and 18th in expenditures for corrections. None of the nine states spending less than Oregon on higher education had populations of more than 1.6 million, and the average population of the nine was only 1 million. Even North Dakota, with a population of about 740,000, spent more on higher education than Oregon. The 17 states that spent more on corrections are all large states, with average populations of about 13.4 million.