OUS funds schools based on outdated enrollment

Despite Portland State’s status as the largest and fastest-growing university in Oregon, the state Legislature and the Oregon University System’s Board of Higher Education made decisions recently to give it another, more dubious, distinction: the most poorly funded.


For the fourth year in a row no money has been provided to the OUS by the Legislature for enrollment growth, a decision unanimously supported by the Board of Higher Education. Both cite the depressed economy as a reason for the lack in funding.


This decision affects Portland State in a unique way, as it is the only university in Oregon’s seven-campus university system to experience substantial growth in the last four years. Enrollment levels at other public Oregon universities have not seen the same rise in population.


According to Diane Saunders, director of communications at the OUS chancellor’s office, it is not clear where the original decision not to fund enrollment growth was made. “I don’t know if it was a legislative decision or a OUS decision,” she said. “Our board did approve it.”


She went on to state that it was a unanimous decision by the board.


The Legislature’s general fund is distributed based on enrollment figures at the universities. According to the OUS Resource Allocation Model, “each campus is allocated state general fund support based upon their actual enrollment.” The “actual enrollment” figures used for the last four years are from the 2002-03 school year.


In this time, Portland State has grown by 3,159 students, whereas University of Oregon increased by 456 students and Oregon State University added 526.


Portland State enrollment in 2002-03 was 21,841. The initial headcount for this fall was just over 25,000 students.


U of O had 20,044 students in 2002-03 and OSU had 18,774. Now each institution has approximately 20,500 and 19,300, respectively.


Portland State accounts for 31 percent of the Oregon University System’s 80,000 students. It receives 22 percent of the general fund.


For the 2005-06 Operating Budget, the eight universities in OUS were allocated $274 million. Portland State received $60 million, U of O obtained $62 million and OSU got $82 million.


By these numbers, Portland State receives $2,407 for each student from the general fund. OSU averages $4,272 a student.


While President Bernstine did confirm the decision, he declined to comment.


This comes at a time when state funding of higher education in Oregon continues to plummet. In 2002-03, Oregon ranked 44th in the nation in state funding per student, with $5,631. Last place went to New Hampshire, which averaged $3,633 per student. In 2004-05, Oregon fell below that number, providing just $3,620 for each student. Portland State receives even less per student.


The recent and continuing contract negotiations for Portland State faculty centers on salary. Union members argue that low pay can lead to poor faculty retention. With teachers saying they can’t afford to stay at Portland State on one side and a poorly funded administration on the other, a compromise has yet to be reached.


The general fund supplies the Oregon Opportunity Grant, among other things. Funding for the $42 million Recreation Center and $30 million parking structure at Portland State will not come from the general fund.