The Oregon legislative session that concluded this summer included a lot of wins for higher education, among them:
- Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) composition. Five current nonvoting seats -- designated for faculty (2), students (2), and university/college staff -- will become voting seats. One additional voting seat will be designated for a graduate student. That means six of HECC’s 15 decision-makers will be stakeholders in higher ed.
- Health care for part-time faculty members. Faculty members who work at least 0.5 FTE in the aggregate during at least three of the last four academic terms, even across multiple institutions, qualify for the same employee-only health care benefits as full-time faculty, but they will now pay just 10% of insurance premiums rather than the full cost. The implementation may be bumpy, but this is a big victory.
- Public university funding up. The pandemic-induced fiscal challenges facing public institutions might have been abysmal if not for federal assistance and better-than-expected economic performance in the state. Of course, things aren’t great, but the biennial (starting July 2021) funding for public universities is $900 million, up 7.5% from the last biennium.
Wins for our students include progress on textbook affordability (greater transparency before course registration), transfer credits (creation of a Transfer Council), and credit for prior learning (launch of a pilot program).
Although no bill passed, hearings were held on various aspects of higher education governance. Senate Bill 854 would require the Governor to consider the alumni status of candidates and to elicit recommendations from student, faculty, and nonfaculty staff organizations at the university. Governing boards would need to include two students, two faculty, and one nonfaculty staff, all voting members; they would become more accessible; and they would be required to conduct a comprehensive performance review of the university president once each biennium. It is not clear how much progress can be made during the upcoming short session, but the role of university governing boards is also now on the legislative agenda in Salem.