Press Release

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

Higher Ed Board reviews OUS performance,
approves WOU guaranteed tuition plan

PORTLAND, Oct. 6 – The State Board of Higher Education (the “Board”) and its committees met today at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, reviewing overall performance of the Oregon University System and approving a guaranteed tuition plan for Western Oregon University, among other items considered by the Board.

OUS Performance
Ruth Keele, OUS director of performance measurement and outcomes, and Susan Weeks, OUS vice chancellor for strategic programs and planning, presented the 2005-06 Annual Report on OUS Performance. “While the longer term trends in many of these annual indicators still show positive increases, the shorter term trends are showing the strains of the multi-biennial decreases in higher education investments by the state,” said Weeks.

Keele reported that total credit enrollment, especially for undergraduates, increased significantly in the five years between 2000-01 and 2005-06, reflecting the high priority placed on ensuring access, even during periods of constrained resources. OUS undergraduate and graduate enrollment in grew 17% and 12%, respectively, over this time, compared to national undergraduate and graduate enrollment, which increased 13% and 17%. However, the rate of undergraduate and graduate growth has slowed since 2002-03, to 1% and less than 2%, respectively, between fall 2004 and 2005. Following a 9% increase in 2001-02, enrollment of newly admitted undergraduates has remained relatively flat, with fall 2005 figures showing only 0.1% growth over the previous fall. “This trend is reflected in Oregon freshmen participation rates, which have been declining since that time,” said Keele.

Regarding student persistence and completion, Keele noted that the percentage of new freshmen continuing to their second year has maintained a steady rate of 80% for five years since 2000-01. For the freshmen cohort returning in 2004-05, the rate increased slightly, recovering from the decline noted in the previous year, showing the success of campus initiatives to facilitate student progress and completion. Six-year graduation rates for students entering as freshmen and completing their degree at an OUS institution continued to improve; in 2004-05, 58.7% of the freshmen cohort entering six years earlier had completed their degree, compared to 58.0% the previous year and 55.5% in 2001-02.

Keele explained that data on graduate satisfaction are obtained through a biennial survey of recent bachelor’s graduates, reflecting the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients who rate the quality of their overall educational experience at the university as either “excellent” or “very good.” Performance results for the class of 2005 showed 84.3% assessing their educational experience highly, up from 72% ten years earlier and the highest level yet obtained.

For two years—in 2002-03 and 2003-04—OUS degrees earned grew dramatically, spurred by significant enrollment growth in earlier years following an increase in state investment in 1999. While the number of degrees awarded grew again in 2004-05 to 16,694, the rate of growth has slowed. Despite higher graduation rates, the slowing enrollment growth in recent years will likely be reflected in future degrees obtained.

Systemwide, total university foundations’ net assets have shown strong growth in two subsequent years, up 15.3% in 2003-04 and another 12.2% in 2004-05, with total assets reaching $960.6 million. “An increase over time is a good indicator of external support and public confidence in our universities,” said Keele. Between 2000-01 and 2004-05, sponsored research expenditures grew by almost $59 million to $280.5 million, an increase of 26.5%, and a measure of faculty quality and productivity. Sponsored research funding from federal sources increased by 35% during this same period. Increases in this measure bolster not only academic excellence and student support, but broader economic development initiatives within the state.

Weeks reported that after reaching a high of 27.9 in 2003-04, the ratio of students to full-time faculty declined in each of the two subsequent years to 25.7 in 2005-06. While an improvement, this remains higher than the 24.3 five years earlier and the ratios of 22 or 23 seen through the early- and mid-1990s. Slowing enrollment growth and further gains in recouping the faculty losses seen in 2003-04 account for lower ratios in recent years. Weeks noted in closing that during the scheduled November report to the Board, university presidents will discuss specific campus performance trends and future targets in the context of their institutional goals, initiatives, and circumstances.

WOU Tuition Plan
David McDonald, interim dean of admissions, enrollment management and retention for Western Oregon University, provided additional follow up information to the Board about the institution’s proposed guaranteed tuition proposal, called Western Tuition Promise, introduced at the September Board meeting. McDonald explained that, as proposed, WOU would guarantee incoming resident undergraduate and Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) students a fixed tuition that would not increase for a four-year period. This guarantee would require mandatory participation for all new resident undergraduate and WUE students admitted during the 2007-08 academic year. In addition, WOU would allow students admitted the previous year to opt into this program on a voluntary basis. The tuition rate for new eligible undergraduate students associated with this program is anticipated to increase by 16 percent over current rates; however, that decision will not be brought to the OUS Board until June 2007 when the academic year fee book is considered for adoption. Data from the entering class of 1999 found that 25 percent of graduates took longer than four years to complete their degree. The first step in increasing the number of students who graduate in four years is to provide incentives to those who take longer to finish. Students enrolled beyond the guaranteed period will be assessed the tuition rate effective for students who first began studies in the following year. McDonald said that increased student advising will accompany the new plan.

Jay Kenton, OUS vice chancellor for finance and administration noted that this tuition plan will be considered a pilot program to be evaluated in fall 2008 and every two years thereafter. He also noted that OUS staff are recommending to the Board that WOU carry additional financial reserves to mitigate against the financial risks inherent in the plan. Program evaluation criteria should include the impact of this plan on WOU’s enrollment, retention rates, graduation rates, time to degree, and finances. After some discussion, the Board approved the guaranteed tuition program for WOU, with implementation beginning in the fall of 2007.

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

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