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Feasibility Study on OHSU-PSU Merger Released by Consulting Group

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

PORTLAND, June 6, 2007 – The Learning Alliance for Higher Education today released a report commissioned by the Oregon University System called, “Considering the Possibility of Merging Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University.” The study was commissioned after a request from State Representative Mitch Greenlick to further explore the feasibility and merits of a merger between OHSU and PSU in meeting the educational needs of the Portland area and the state.

The principal conclusion of the report is that such a merger is not supported by either institution, and to undertake such a merger at this time would risk diverting both institutions from their important missions, would result in a lower level of higher education and research in the metropolitan area, and would not produce any cost savings. However, the report also considered how such a merger might be undertaken successfully. This review was based, in part, on the experiences of other similar mergers in other cities in the United States.

The concept of such a merger, according to the report, would be to create a university that would qualify for membership in the prestigious American Association of Universities (of which the University of Oregon is a member today). The ingredients of a successful merger effort would include visionary leadership on both campuses and in the Portland community; making the merger a top priority for all involved parties; a steady infusion of state funds that are not subject to the boom-and-bust funding that has characterized state appropriations for both institutions in the past; and independence from the state and the Oregon University System.

“One result of such a merger could be a more selective and prestigious university with more doctoral programs and research,” said George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the OUS.  “However, the numbers of students served would certainly be smaller than the current combined enrollment of the two institutions, its tuition might be higher than that now charged at PSU. Other concerns are that the merged institution’s focus on serving the educational needs of diverse undergraduates -- which PSU practices today through its unique academic model of student and community engagement -- would be secondary to the research and doctoral focus.”

The report suggests that the merged institution be funded by the state not by biennial appropriations but through the issuance of about $1 billion of taxable bonds for which the state general fund would be responsible. This would provide some working capital to the new entity and would insulate the university from the vagaries of the biennial state budget process.

“The Learning Alliance views its report as raising issues and starting a conversation about how to achieve the vision of establishing an AAU level university in Portland,” said Pernsteiner.  “The report has made a contribution to the discussion about higher education in Portland and in Oregon, and provides the outline of a roadmap to achieve the vision.  An important question that now must be answered is whether Portland and Oregon embrace that vision, and are they willing to pay for it or to reduce emphasis on other priorities -- such as undergraduate student access in Portland -- to achieve it?  These are matters that the State Board of Higher Education, in cooperation with many other interested partners, will address in the months ahead.”  A subcommittee of the Board’s Strategic Initiatives Committee is beginning to look at higher education needs and opportunities in the Portland metropolitan area, noted Pernsteiner. The issues and potential noted in the Learning Alliance report will be among those considered in the work of that group.

The Learning Alliance for Higher Education, located at the University of Pennsylvania. The lead member of the Engagement Team is Dr. Robert Zemsky, professor and chair of The Learning Alliance.

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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