May 15, 2007 11:00 pm

As presidents of the seven Oregon University System institutions, we are concerned about the higher education operating and capital budgets proposed by the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Committee on Ways and Means.

If enacted, the proposals could significantly increase tuition for all Oregon students and families, would compromise student access — especially for rural Oregonians — and could turn away millions of dollars in private support for repairing and replacing aging campus facilities that ensure access to classes and laboratories.

Simply put, the co-chairs' budget would further reduce Oregon students' chance for a higher education, their ability to stay in college and their ability to contribute much needed skills to bolster Oregon's workforce and economy once they graduate.

More than a decade of state disinvestment in Oregon's public universities has taken its toll on programs, services, facilities and staffing which ensure student support, quality instruction and students' ability to graduate.

In only 5 years, between fall 2001 and 2006, tuition increased 46 percent at our public universities to make up for dramatic decreases in state support. It is almost impossible for Oregon students to work their way through college, as past generations did, since today's students would have to work about 50 hours a week just to cover tuition and fees. This is a fundamental change in support for a public good — increasing the education and skills of Oregonians — which benefits the entire state and the industries which may choose to come to Oregon, stay here, or leave, depending on the strength and talents of our workforce.

Governor Ted Kulongoski's 2007-2009 budget recommendation offers the promise of hope and opportunity by investing in Oregon's greatest asset: its citizens.

The Governor's budget is what Oregon needs to ensure a strong, stable higher education system that will prepare students to succeed as our future workforce and community leaders.

The co-chairs' budget weakens that promise to Oregon students and their families. If we cannot adequately fund higher education now, in the strongest fiscal environment we've had in Oregon in six or seven years, then when will the time be "right"?

Oregon's public universities are working hard to ensure a strong, viable future for our students and the state by securing the Legislature's approval for the Governor's Recommended Budget. We need Oregonians' support, including our elected officials, to ensure that we have the highly skilled workforce required to retain and attract companies and jobs to the state and to ensure a successful future for every Oregonian.

Dan Bernstine is president of Portland State University; Mary Cullinan is president of Southern Oregon University; Martha Anne Dow is president of Oregon Institute of Technology; Khosrow Fatemi is president of Eastern Oregon University; Dave Frohnmayer is president of the University of Oregon; John Minahan is president of Western Oregon University; and Ed Ray is president of Oregon State University