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'Fiscal cliff' threatens universities, students

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By MICHAEL GOTTFREDSON, ED RAY and WIM WIEWEL


For the Capital Press


Oregonians are frustrated. While we're gradually moving out of the recession, albeit slowly, there's now another ax hanging over our economic prospects: the "fiscal cliff." These radical, across-the-board cuts have very serious consequences that directly impact Oregonians. We need Congress to act now. With only weeks until these draconian cuts take effect, Oregon and the nation require immediate action.


Oregon's congressional delegation has been working hard to ensure that the serious consequences for Oregon are communicated to their colleagues in Washington. For higher education, the Oregon University System would lose more than $33 million in student financial aid and in research grants annually. Oregon Health and Science University stands to lose $27 million in federal funding for critical research. This combined $60 million loss would undercut Oregon's already fragile economic expansion and adversely affect thousands of Oregon workers and businesses.


In the case of Oregon's college students, the fiscal cliff will affect their ability to stay in school. Thousands of low- and moderate-income students across the state receive Federal Work Study aid and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants to help cover their tuition costs. These will be cut without congressional action.


Our neediest students have run out of other options to pay for college: they are working, taking out loans and often juggling the needs of their families while also doggedly working on getting a degree. Time will run out for them if the fiscal cliff becomes a reality. Many will simply become another statistic: a student who dropped out of college with no degree, lots of student loan debt, and no credential to help them find work.


At a time when the state is committed to the 40-40-20 educational attainment goal to drive economic growth, this would be a move in exactly the opposite direction: less opportunity for students to go to college, fewer degrees and reduced numbers of jobs going to Oregonians.


Oregon's public universities are proud that our faculty rank in the top 10 nationally of colleges and universities awarded federal research grants. OUS and OHSU faculty and physicians are using federal science, health and other grants to make discoveries that are saving lives, driving innovation in companies that create jobs, and helping all of Oregon's industries, including traditional ones, thrive in a changing environment.


Federal grants pay for the faculty, staff and students who work on the research and create jobs that flow into other Oregon businesses of all sizes, which provide related services and equipment. If the fiscal cliff occurs, this funding will disappear immediately, forcing more Oregonians into the unemployment line and impacting important research that improves many aspects of our daily lives and work.


The fiscal cliff will affect real people in Oregon. We've already been at the bottom of the recession's cliff and we're just climbing out. Inaction will cut the rope again, setting Oregon back from the recovery we need to continue.


We urge Oregon and the nation's leadership to immediately agree on a balanced and phased in approach to managing the nation's fiscal crisis. Please do not allow a lack of agreement to result in an even more immediate, consequential fiscal crisis. Oregonians need our national leaders to step up and meet this challenge.


Michael Gottfredson, Ed Ray, and Wim Wiewel are the presidents of the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University, respectively. Joe Robertson, M.D, M.B.A., president of Oregon Health and Science University, and George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System, also contributed to this commentary.



 

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