How Oregon Funds Education is Biased

A recent study has alleged a gender bias in how Oregon spends its money for higher education.  

Researchers at Southern Oregon University titled their paper “A Gender Analysis of Oregon’s Student Success and Completion Model, and it says there are gender inequalities in the formula used for distribution of funds to public universities, finding that focusing on bachelors degrees for Oregon residents, generally degrees most likely completed by men were worth more.  

 Jacki Strenio, an assistant professor of economics at SOU and author of the research paper, said in a statement to OPB that this funding model made a completed engineering degree, usually heavy with male students, worth twice as much a psychology degree, usually completed by female students.  

The formula the state uses is called the Student Success and Completion Model, or SSCM, and it is how the state decides to share funds among state colleges. Before 2015, a public school received funding based on how many students were enrolling, but now it is decided based on three funding streams: funding for specific services or programs, funding based on the number of completed credit hours, and funding based on degree completions.  

The research paper was based off the latter, which makes up 50 percent of total fund allocation.  

Strenio said STEM degrees are more heavily weighted. Though over half of degrees are completed by women, only 33 percent of women received bachelor’s degrees in a STEM field, meaning universities with large social sciences, liberal arts, and humanities degree programs receive less funding.  

Jim Pinkard, director of postsecondary finance and capital with Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said in a statement, “When evaluating the funding model we think it’s important to look not only at isolated components, but also at its overall effect.” 

Pinkard said in the case of SOU, though they enroll a greater than average number of female students, they also receive more than an average amount of per-student funding.  

“Looking more broadly, we could not identify a substantial relationship between the amount of funding per-student the model generates for institutions and the proportion of female students the institution enrolls,” Pinkard said. 

Regardless, the paper argues that prioritizing STEM programs will lead to disinvestment in other, more typically female programs thereby causing a loss in retention and completion in women-dominated areas.  

Not all women-dominated areas are weighted less, with healthcare programs being about on par with STEM fields, Pinkard said.  

Bilingual teaching is also weighted similarly.  

Strenio said, “When we look at absolute numbers, the STEM fields are much larger, and since we’re looking at total degrees awarded, that still can unintentionally privilege these men-dominated fields.” She added that there are arguments saying prioritizing STEM fields will increase the number of women and other underserved groups to join, but research has not shown that to be true, pointing to additional factors that will have more of an impact on that such as social norms and discrimination.  

STEM programs are associated with higher costs, but while acknowledging that Strenio and the other authors point out that they also receive extra funding bonuses without a clear explanation as to why. The authors are advocating for transparency and hoping to encourage dialogue to address these problems, writing in the study that Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission consider weighted bonuses for certain student populations in order to make everything more equitable.  

By: Hannah Ramsey