Tears in Our Beers: The Student Debt Crisis in Southern Oregon


Affording higher education is a luxury that many students in Southern Oregon do not have, according to a new survey underway now which reveals some grim preliminary numbers.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) national student debt for recent graduates has reached a record shattering $1.2 trillion in 2014. That puts the national average of debt for students who require financial aid at $26,000. The same organization notes that student debt in Oregon is slightly higher, ranking 37th in a study of states with the lowest amount of student debt.

The national student debt average is a well documented number, but how much does it vary closer to home? How bad is student debt in Southern Oregon?

The social justice nonprofit organization, Oregon Action, based here in the Rogue Valley, is investigating just that. Over the past year Oregon Action has been collecting data on student debt in Southern Oregon.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, Action Oregon hosted a pub talk at Caldera Tap House in order to give an update on the statistics collected so far. The event was attended by concerned students, community members, and the District’s Representative Peter Buckley.

“We’ve put together a preliminary report, and thus far the findings are pretty grim,” said Kay Brooks, a chapter board member at Action Oregon. “In our Rogue Valley office alone, we have about a quarter-million dollars of student loan debt,” Brooks continued.

The survey is expected to be completed before years end, but according to Oregon Action’s Lead regional Organizer Michelle Glass, initial results of the survey indicate that student debt in the Rogue Valley is significantly higher than the national average. Glass also indicates that this is due in no small part to Oregon being ranked near the bottom, 47th in funding for higher education.

“Your Generation should file a lawsuit against mine,” said state Representative Peter Buckley who has been described by Glass as a champion for higher education. Rep. Buckley explains that one of the biggest problems with the lack of funding is that Oregon voters consistently shoot down bills aimed at increasing funding for education.

In addition Oregon’s lack of taxation on wealthy corporations directly correlates to the lack of state funding for higher education. Students have to pick up the slack with higher tuition rates because the state thus far has not supplied adequate funding. Buckley says that there is hope to increase corporate taxation with an upcoming vote that would tax an estimated 1,000 corporations, but voters have to get involved and push lawmakers to make it happen. “It’s going to be a game changer…but if we blow this one, it won’t come back for a long time,” Rep. Buckley said.

In an attempt to put a face to student debt students shared experiences, Oregon Action told some of these stories like this: one student currently has $32,000 in debt and expects to be $50,000 in the red by the time she graduates, all this while working two jobs and battling depression. “I don’t want to mortgage my future just because I want to better myself,” said another who has had trouble paying for rent and food, “this isn’t academic for most of us, it’s real life.”

This vote may be the only hope for students at Southern Oregon University who have already felt the sting of a 5% tuition increase the beginning of Fall term. The 5% increase would raise tuition at SOU by $110.25 per term.Which if Oregon Action’s numbers are correct would raise the debt of graduating students by $1,764.

Rep. Buckley also announced that he will not be seeking reelection of his House seat saying, “I can’t continue to work as a legislator and afford to put my kid through college.” 

The full report of Southern Oregon student debt is expected to be released by the beginning of Winter Term.