Chanting ‘60s-style protest slogans, about 300 Portland State students rallied in the Park Blocks on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to vent their frustration over declining state support for higher education.
The rally was organized by the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU). Numerous participants called upon students to express their concerns to the Oregon Legislature, which is in the final weeks of its 2012 session.
Among them was David Rogers with the Partnership for Safety and Justice who brought up the fact – repeated throughout the rally and at a panel discussion afterward – that Oregon spends more on prisons than on higher education.
“The future of Oregon will not be found behind bars,” he said.
Rally speakers noted that the current generation of students has had to take on more debt than their predecessors because of rising tuition and declining financial aid resources.
ASPSU President Adam Rahmlow said PSU students have the lowest income and the highest debt of any university in Oregon. “Cutting money from higher education robs our future. Don’t they know we cannot afford another tuition increase?” he said.
The themes were carried forward in the panel discussion at the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom immediately after the event. The panel included PSU President Wim Wiewel, educators, educational advocates, and the student body president of Mt. Hood Community College.
Several over-50 members of the panel recalled their own educational experiences, and said they got through college with the help of financial aid programs that no longer exist. The point illustrated the tough road faced by many students of the current generation.
“The rally here is very appropriate,” Wiewel said.
He explained that the cost of educating students at PSU has remained fairly constant over the past 20 years while state support has fallen dramatically – particularly in the last decade. That has left little choice other than raising tuition, which has more than doubled in 20 years.
He said Oregon is 44th in the nation in the amount of state money devoted to higher education.
“We were 47th last year, and the only thing that has brought us up is that other states cut the amount of money they’re putting to higher education,” he said.