Through creative problem-solving and thinking outside the proverbial box, it’s possible to come up with ways and means to address Oregon’s public college and university costs outside of double-digit tuition increases.  What comes to mind is relief by way of college sports, administrative costs, and Oregon legislative action.

Let’s begin by looking at the history of American colleges and universities.  There was a time when people attended an institution of higher education mainly to acquire further education beyond secondary school to earn a degree and realize the opportunity to work in the field of their choice.  Back when it was possible to earn, during summers and part-time school year jobs, to meet all costs through graduation. This writer was one who accomplished that feat.

What has been noticed most poignantly nowadays is that college and university costs come not only from the traditional expenses, like tuition,, books, room and board, et cetera, but also a school’s participation in sports programs. Sports were once extracurricular for fun and exercise or played by in-state participants motivated by athletic prowess and school spirit.

Just one facet of what’s going on in college-level sports is the extreme and excessive salaries, bonuses and perks paid to coaches as well as their subordinates. One example among many can be cited recently from the University of Oregon where it was announced that a UO football assistnt coach, a “defensive coordinator and linebackers coach,” will be paid $1.15 million per year. While there are many assistants for different team functions at UO alone, the head football coach at UO, Willie Taggert, now owns a 5-year contract worth $16 million while, in basketball, head coach Dana Altman possesses a 7-year contract at $18 million. Then there’s track and field, baseball and a whole host of other sports for men and, since Title IX, women, also.

Without an encyclopedia of higher education costs for administrators, let a couple of examples serve to enlighten.  University of Oregon President Michael Schill receives an annual base salary of $798,400 plus a free car, free housing,  a spending allowance and other perks.  Meanwhile, just a few miles up the road, Oregon State Univesity’s president, Ed Ray, comes in at an annual $699,876. Their support staffs are also paid handsome salaries along with many an enviable perk.

There could be efforts made to reform the way Oregon’s higher education schools conduct business.  What stands in the way of direly needed improvements and reasonable costs are the persons who serve on their governing boards: many know little from personal experience about the financial plights of the average Oregonian seeking a college education.  The presidents and other managers (deans and department heads) often receive six-figure remunerations that are far removed from the Oregon families that send their sons and daughters to them.  Sports are managed and controlled almost exclusively these days by coaches seeking the highest paycheck with no loyalty involved.

The Oregon Legislature could do a lot to make college costs more affordable by keeping tuitions low. How so?  They could reform the state’s tax structure so that the corporations making huge profits in Oregon would have to pay their fair share of education costs at all levels, a condition they’ve escaped by the reduction creep of lobbyists’ activity.  Too often, unfortunately for Oregonians, it’s become apparent, too many Oregon legislators are more interested in keeping their political job than behaving like statesman and are beholden as virtual servants to the corporations that contribute to their campaign chests.  One fact, though, that ought to catch the attention of our legislators is the PERS consequence for these obscene and solvency-busting salaries.

Back to the future. Oregon’s youth and young adults want a chance to embrace the American dream.  To accomplish an opportunity for more among us to attend and graduate, there’s a need for heroic leadership efforts by those in power positions willing to fight for sane paychecks in sports and administrative positions, now having gone stratospheric. However, as long as Oregonians are willing to accept everything currently going on without protest, then those who benefit from what’s happened will continue without a second thought because in no way will these people with pockets full ever be self-correcting.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)