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Higher Ed Board hears strategic report on Southern Oregon University

Contact: Di Saunders – Office, 503-725-5714; Cell, 503-219-6869

PORTLAND, May 4, 2007 – The State Board of Higher Education (the “Board”) met today at the Chemeketa Eola Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem to hear about Southern Oregon University’s (SOU) mission, programs, and plans; and OUS tuition and fee policies and practices, among other items considered by the Board.

SOU Strategic Plan
Mary Cullinan, president of Southern Oregon University, presented the university’s “portfolio” of assets, successes, and challenges, the 4th of 7 OUS institutional reviews being completed this year. Summarizing the profile of the campus, Cullinan noted that SOU has about 5,000 students, a lower student-to-faculty ratio than most OUS campuses at 21-to-1; about 68% of students receive financial aid, with 38% of students considered low-income by federal standards, and 53% of students who are the first in their families to attend college. SOU has the highest number of students with documented disabilities of any OUS campus, and works very hard to ensure that they are given the types of supports that they need to succeed. The campus was recently recognized by The New York Times as one of 20 “Hidden Gems” in higher education nationally, specifically noted for its “exceptional English and liberal arts curriculum,” and lauding its partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. SOU has the designation as a Center for Excellence in the Fine and Performing Arts in Oregon.

Noteworthy programs and approaches at SOU include civic engagement by students through the first-year freshman experience program; Raider Reach Out which involves faculty, staff, alumni, board members and other community members in offering their expertise to help with enrollment efforts; the partnership with Deer Creek Center for Field Research and Education; partnerships with Oregon Health & Science University in Nursing; and the SOU/Rouge Community College Education Center. Cullinan provided examples of the SOU faculty’s commitment to excellence, how they reach out to provide expertise and support throughout the southern Oregon region, and are committed to student engagement in research and field work. About 90% of SOU faculty hold a Ph.D., and faculty grants and contracts increased by over a half million dollars over the last year.

Regarding current challenges as SOU, President Cullinan discussed student recruitment and retention, and noted that affordability affects students’ ability to enter and stay at SOU, a challenge that is seen across the state. Faculty recruitment and retention remains a top challenge, with SOU faculty only at 83% of their peer salaries, precipitating faculty leaving SOU, and failed searches due to salary levels and high cost of living in Ashland. Operating resource limitations and facilities and maintenance issues also affect the campus. For example, while increasing numbers of students from all over the country apply to SOU’s renowned theater program, because of facilities constraints, more of these students will be turned away, even during a time when the campus is looking to increase enrollment. Cullinan noted that a new theater building has been sought for several biennia in the capital construction budget, and that this would enable the campus to meet the demand for this unique, high quality program. Other infrastructure concerns include old HVAC and heating systems which cannot meet current needs, old labs and deferred maintenance in the science building, and other repair issues.

Cullinan acknowledged that it has been a difficult year for SOU as they determined the best ways to reduce about $4 million in recurring costs, but it has enabled full engagement by faculty and students in conversations about their future. SOU’s recent restructuring efforts have eliminated and consolidated some programs to address these budgetary issues. Part of SOU’s strategic planning process will include ways to streamline the focus and curriculum at SOU in ways which reflect its unique students, programs and regional needs, frame a more transparent budget process, and provide the underpinnings for a capital campaign. Cullinan stressed that all of SOU’s challenges could move towards solutions and successes with additional state funding and reinvestment. In closing, Cullinan said that SOU can continue to make a tremendous impact in the region in a supportive, academically challenging environment, and that she is optimistic about the future of the campus and its ability to meet the diverse needs of its students, campus community, and the southern Oregon region.

Tuition & Fee Discussion
Jay Kenton, OUS vice chancellor for finance and administration, opened a discussion on the history, current policies, and future strategies for tuition and fee setting policy and practices. Tuition revenue is generally used for university operations, while fees are used by the school/college or department. Based on recommendations from the campuses and Chancellor, the Board annually sets tuition and fees, and room and board charges. Kenton described the types of fees assessed, including mandatory fees (e.g., building, health service, and incidental fees), universal resource fees (student services; transcript, energy surcharge, registration, and technology), programmatic resource fees (for higher cost programs such as engineering), and other student fees (such as lab fees). In setting these fees, institutions have to balance campuses’ financial needs in the programs and services they offer with the projected level of state funding, market considerations, and any legislative mandates. Kenton noted that prior to Ballot Measure 5 in the early 1990s, Oregon resident students typically paid about one-third the cost of instruction and the state funded the other two-thirds; the state currently covers only 38% of OUS General Fund expenses, while students pay for 52%, with the remaining 10% from indirect costs and other sources. Kenton said that Legislative Budget Notes can provide limitations on the amount of tuition and fees which the OUS can charge in any given biennium, as well as the amount of fee remissions it can provide to help defray tuition costs for certain students, such as those who are low-income. He noted that Senator Vicki Walker had been working on this issue as well through the Senate Committee on Education & General Government and had filed a bill that addresses programmatic resource fees (SB 1029); but that she had recently pulled the bill in order to give OUS and the Board a chance to work with students on coming up with appropriate solutions to this issue, with a report back to the Committee by May 18.

Kenton said that an ad hoc committee has been formed made up of interinstitutional students, and campus and Chancellor’s Office administration to better understand the issues which students are most concerned about, including tuition and fee transparency, clear justification of institutional need for increased rates, the process of adopting new rates, and the adequacy of financial aid to cover those increased costs. Involving students in the process allows for their input in decision-making, and creates an environment of healthy, mutual trust. Two students, Michael Olson of Oregon State University and Jared Axelrod of the University of Oregon, also provided their recommendations on tuition and fees, such as developing aids on websites, such as a fee calculator, to help students assess and understand their costs. They noted that students are helping to review tuition modeling scenarios, such as rolling some fees into tuition; as well as differential tuition, which more and more states are moving towards. Olson noted that students are excited about this collaborative process and feel that a lot of progress has been made, and that positive changes will be made with a full commitment by the Board.

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

  • Heard an update from Chancellor George Pernsteiner and Board Secretary Ryan Hagemann on the PSU Presidential Search process, noting that Board member Jim Francesconi would chair the search committee and that the committee would be formed over the next few weeks.
  • Accepted the Investment Report as of March 31, 2007.
  • Accepted the Budget Projections Summary for March 31, 2007.
  • Accepted the Chancellor’s Office Fund Balance report.
  • Heard an OUS Internal Audit progress report on audits issued between February and April 2007.
  • Discussed OUS cash, investment, and debt management proposed policies.
  • Approved new academic programs, all effective in fall 2007: Oregon Institute of Technology, B.S. in Geomatics, Option in Geographic Information Systems; OIT, B.S. in Information Technology, Option in Health Informatics; Portland State University, Graduate Certificate in Student Affairs in Higher Education; PSU, Graduate Certificate in Teaching Adult Learners.
  • Adopted the proposed Strategic Initiatives Committee charter as presented.
  • Heard a report on six-year financial trends in OUS, in Education and General Funds.
  • Heard updates from the Board committee chairs, including the Strategic Initiatives Committee, and Finance and Administration.
  • Heard reports from the Research Council, Interinstitutional Faculty Senate and the Oregon Student Association.

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education, the statutory governing board of OUS, is composed of eleven members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oregon State Senate. For additional information, go to www.ous.edu


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 www.ous.edu

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