Press Release

Contact: Di Saunders – Office, 503-725-5714; Cell, 503-807-5539

Higher Ed Board rolls out plan to address "urgent" needs of Oregon's universities

PORTLAND, Sept. 8 – The State Board of Higher Education (the “Board”) and its committees met yesterday and today at Portland State University, reviewing the Board’s strategic plan, the financial condition of the Oregon University System campuses, a new report on the college choices of Oregon’s high school class of 2005, and a guaranteed tuition proposal from Western Oregon University, among other items considered by the Board.

Long Range Plan     Susan Weeks, OUS vice chancellor for strategic programs and planning, presented the Board’s Long-Range plan for review and approval. Weeks said that the most critical thing for Oregon is to raise the level of bachelor’s degree attainment in the future working population. During the 1990s, educational attainment rose as new people with college degrees came into the state, so by 2000 Oregon was above the U.S. average. Recently, the state has experienced (and will continue to experience) significant increases in populations that have lower levels of educational attainment, particularly the Hispanic/Latino population. Over the past few years Oregon’s bachelor’s degree attainment has started to drop, according to U.S. Census data. Meanwhile, baby boomers, who were more highly educated and who were part of the 1990s in-migration, will retire in huge numbers over the next 20 years. The lower level of educational attainment for younger working age adults compared to older adults means that even the current level of educational attainment will be very difficult to maintain in the future, said Weeks.

Weeks said that despite our current modest growth rates, enrollment demand over the next 20 years should grow considerably, according to state population forecasts. Just to maintain current educational attainment levels will mean an increase of about 37,000 students and 4,000 bachelor’s degrees in OUS – equivalent to the current enrollment of Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, and Western Oregon University combined. If Oregon hopes to increase the percentage of college degrees—for example to 40%—that would require the OUS to double its current enrollment and degree production, Weeks said.

On the positive side, Weeks noted OUS’s excellence and growing strength in faculty research, and stressed that this is the time to build on that for both economic and educational returns to Oregon. “These are the two things that will bring Oregon into a competitive position nationally and globally,” said Weeks, “helping more Oregonians get bachelor’s degrees, and reaping the benefits from the excellence we have in key areas of research.”  She discussed the problem which calls for urgent action, which is the dismal financial picture for OUS after years of disinvestment. “The urgency with which Oregon must address these conditions if the state is to be competitive in the global knowledge economy of the present and future is the over-riding theme of this plan, and is what underlies the budget request for 2007-2009,” said George Pernsteiner, OUS chancellor. After discussion of the plan, the Board voted unanimously to approve the long-range plan, as amended.

Financial Analysis     Michael Green, OUS controller, provided an analysis of the 2005-06 financial statements and condition for each of the OUS institutions. The analysis compares financial information over the last four years, and calculates certain ratios and relationships among this data. Green noted that while all of the institutions and the Chancellor’s Office appear to have adequate reserves, there are some trends which could become problematic. He summarized several issues to watch, including: growing operating losses that are unsustainable and will lead to financial challenges if not turned around; declining State General Funds as a percentage of total revenues, from 22% in FY 2003 to 18% in FY 2006, leading to institutions increasing their reliance on self-generated revenues, especially tuition; a greater reliance on gifts and grants; declining reserves, from 23% in FY 2003 to 21% in 2006; and increasing institutional debt, evidenced by the growth in long-term liabilities and debt burdens. Green noted that all of the campuses have been working hard to respond effectively to this new, more challenging fiscal environment.

Graduates Study     Ruth Keele, OUS director of performance measurement, reported on a recent survey of the Oregon high school class of 2005 called, Where Have Oregon’s Graduates Gone? This biennial study – the seventh in a series – sought to identify the proportion of the graduating class that attended a postsecondary institution, the type of college they chose, and the reasons for that choice, or for not attending college. Keele said that the majority of these students, 73.7%, were enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college or university by the fall or winter following high school graduation. While Oregon’s rate of enrollment is higher than the national average, the fall and winter enrollment for the class of 2005 decreased from the class of 2001 and 2003 studies, which were 75% and 73.7%, respectively. Key issues that Oregon needs to watch are the declining enrollments of Hispanic/Latino and American Indian respondents; the increasing numbers of Oregon students leaving the state to go to college; and the significantly lower number of males than females who say they have no plans to ever attend college. The study and a fact sheet are available at

WOU Tuition Plan     David McDonald, interim dean of admissions, enrollment management and retention for Western Oregon University, described a proposal to offer a guaranteed tuition rate for incoming undergraduates beginning in fall 2007, and through the students 4-years at WOU. Benefits to students from the plan would include accurate knowledge of college costs; price certainty for students and families; projected tuition savings at the end of 4 years of $900 to $1,000; an incentive to graduate in less time; reduced loan debt; and increased college access. After discussing the proposal at length, the Board asked WOU to return next month with a final proposal.

In other action and discussion at the meetings, the Board and/or Committees:

Oregon University System comprises seven distinguished public universities, reaching more than one million people each year through on-campus classes, statewide public services and lifelong learning. For additional information, go to

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