The coronavirus and natural disasters have taken a toll on Oregon’s economy. Employee hours have been reduced, jobs eliminated and businesses shuttered for months or permanently closed.

At a time when our state is experiencing unprecedented economic challenges, higher education is more important than ever.

Our colleges and universities make vital contributions to Oregon’s economy. At Oregon State University alone, university operations contributed $2.3 billion to the state’s economy in 2017 and were responsible for supporting up to 30,452 jobs statewide.

Across the state higher education system, our public colleges and universities are developing a prepared workforce, introducing new technologies, engaging in cutting-edge research, helping business startups, building infrastructure which creates jobs and providing life-changing education for tens of thousands of Oregon students.

As a business owner and former member of the Oregon Senate, I can appreciate the fiscal challenges faced by those in the Legislature over the last several months and the difficult decisions before them as they now finalize the state budget. However, the economic catalyst of investments in higher education that create economic growth and undergird the economy should not be overlooked.

The Public University Support Fund (PUSF) is the primary fund for state support of operational expenses at Oregon’s public universities. A $900 million investment in the PUSF will help universities cover costs, shield students from significant tuition increases and help maintain critical wrap-around services for Oregon college students.

Our colleges and universities provide an important safety net for Oregon students. The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the challenges many college students were already experiencing pre-pandemic as they rely on campus housing, jobs, access to dining halls, food pantries, childcare and the other university services. A recent PSU study found that over 50% of Oregon college students experienced food and housing insecurity during the pandemic. Black, indigenous and persons of color students have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to experience food and housing insecurity.

Insufficient state investment undoubtedly will lead to the elimination or reduction of critical student services and programs and tuition increases at a time when our students can ill afford it. That’s why the state needs to make college and the associated support services it provides, available to as many students as possible.

I join the hope of thousands of our students and their families that the Oregon Legislature feels a sense of responsibility to Oregon’s colleges and universities.

An investment in higher education protects students, helps them reach their potential and puts them on a path to economic prosperity, all the while helping the Oregon economy recover from the current downturn and bounce back stronger.

Retired North Albany resident Frank Morse is the former president of Morse Bros Inc. and chairman of EnvironMetal Inc. He also served in the Oregon Legislature from 2003-2012 as a senator representing Dist. 8. You may reach him at

Article was originally published by Statesman Journal.