Oregon: Proposals on State Funding and Consolidation

BY MARTIN KICH

In “Threatening Tuition Hike, Oregon Universities Demand Funding Increase,” an article for Oregon Public Broadcasting, Rob Manning reports:

The presidents of Oregon’s seven public universities are telling legislative leaders they need a big funding increase to keep tuition down. That’s the main message in a letter the university presidents intend to send to legislative leaders this week.

“The one-page letter is blunt: If legislators want to limit tuition increases, they better add at least $100 million to Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal for higher education. . . .

“’The impacts of these large tuition increases and reduction in services have taken their toll on Oregonians. Retention rates, and at many universities graduation rates are down or stagnant and many students can no longer piece together a financial aid package of grants, loans, and work sufficient to fund a college education,’ the presidents’ letter says. . . .

“The budget proposed last month by Brown would flat-fund public universities. College presidents say that’s really a budget cut, considering the rising costs of running their campuses. The governor herself characterized the university spending level is “unacceptable” in her budget summary.

“But universities are part of Brown’s approach to filling a $1.7 billion budget hole. That hole is largely due to rising costs of health care, public employee retirement and ballot measures that voters approved last November.”

 

Writing for the Oregonian, Andrew Theen reports on Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney’s proposal to permit universities and community colleges to merge:

Senate President Peter Courtney introduced a controversial bill Monday that would allow Oregon community colleges and public universities to voluntarily merge, a proposal that nobody in higher education circles was clamoring for but Courtney said could potentially mean big savings for cash-strapped students.

The legislation would require schools to submit a joint proposal to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission outlining the details, timeline and potential cost-savings of the merger.

“Courtney, a Salem Democrat, said the opportunities for cost savings are obvious. ‘You have one president. You have one administration. You have serious savings,’ he said in an interview.

“It also would make it easier and cheaper for students to move between the two systems. . . .

“Courtney knows it’s an unpopular idea, calling it “an uphill fight” despite the voluntary nature of the bill.”

Theen quotes Andrea Henderson, executive director of the Oregon Community College Association, who “doesn’t think having the option to merge is a bad idea but doesn’t see administrative bloat as an issue at two-year schools”—“’We’re so thin, I’m not sure there would be much cost-savings.’”

Likewise, “Courtney said merging would be a good option for Portland State and Portland Community College. Those two entities joining forces would create a school ‘unprecedented in the entire country.’

“PSU and PCC issued a joint statement Monday afternoon saying Courtney hadn’t directly approached the institutions. The schools already have a close-relationship, according to the statement. ‘Currently, more than 5,400 PSU students are PCC transfers, making up nearly one-third of PSU’s total undergraduates. In addition, under the PSU-PCC joint admissions program, 3,592 PCC students are currently co-admitted to PSU, which enables them to seamlessly transfer their credits to PSU when they transfer.’”

 

Very few faculty members in Oregon–or anywhere else in the nation—will be opposed to any proposals that will actually reduce administrative costs. But, as Theen’s article highlights, the actual savings to be achieved from Senator Cortney’s proposal are ambiguous, if not dubious. Indeed, because even administrative restructurings within institutions typically end up costing exorbitant amounts, it would seem very prudent for the state government, in consultation with any willing institutions, to prepare very detailed projections of the costs of merging the institutions, of the savings to be achieved through the mergers, and of the length of time that it will take to offset the costs with the savings. Moreover, a very necessary part of such projections would be the creation of some sort of enforcement mechanism to insure that the administrative consolidation actually does occur, rather than simply some sort of administrative reconfiguration or even administrative proliferation.

 

Rob Manning’s complete article for OPB is available at: http://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-college-budget-increase/.

Andrew Theen’s complete article is available at: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2017/01/sen_peter_courtney_wants_commu.html.

 

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