OUS receives $190 million budget hike

    The State Board of Higher Education has approved a $190.2 million Oregon University System (OUS) budget increase for the next biennium, resulting in a $922.6 million base budget for the seven Oregon public universities.

    The board also approved a $67 million budget for special initiative programs focused on helping the Oregon economy, such as the Portland State Center for Transportation Studies, which capped the total Operating Budget for the General Fund for OUS at $989.4 million. The OUS Operating Budget for the General Fund totaled $732.4 million for the 2005-07 biennium.

    Next, OUS will send the budget to the governor’s office. After the governor’s office releases the Oregon budget in December, the state Legislature will decide on the OUS budget in January.

    Dianne Saunders, director of communications at OUS, said OUS proposed the sizable increase in the General Fund because of a need to bring Oregon universities to a level comparable to their peers. According to an OUS report, Oregon ranks 46th in the nation in state funding per student. Students in Oregon public higher education currently pay roughly two-thirds of their tuition, whereas ten years ago they paid close to one-third of the cost.

    "We are pleased that the state system and Higher Ed understand the situation and have become advocates for it," said Portland State Provost of Academic Affairs Roy Koch.

    If the needs of the board are met, the allocation of extra funds is expected to raise Oregon’s ranking in per-student funding from 46th to 40th in the country, which is 80 percent of the nation’s average. OUS said this will help the board in their long-range plan to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees attained in the state.

    Saunders said OUS is hoping to resolve problems with increasing enrollment levels across the state, but a lack of corresponding increases in funding.

    Saunders said increasing enrollment has been a more prominent problem at PSU than other Oregon schools, with enrollment jumping by over 7000 students since 2001.

    She said PSU has not received any additional funding for enrollment increases since 2001.

    If additional funds for the OUS budget are approved, it would translate into the hiring of additional faculty and staff. According to a 2004-05 survey by the American Association of University Professors and the OUS Fact Book, the national average salary for post-secondary teachers is 12.5 percent greater than the average PSU, OSU and UO faculty salary.

    "We’d like to address some inequities that exist there," Koch said of the major discrepancies in pay.

    Increased funds would also aid in providing additional classroom space on campus. Projects like the renovation of Science Building 2 and progress on the new student recreation center are important to the growing population of PSU, Koch said. Other student services, like financial aid, would benefit students monetarily as well.

    "This is part of a lot of input that will go into deciding the 2007-09 budget," said Koch.

    Saunders said more money for OUS would help reduce the student-faculty ratio in classrooms across the state. She said it would also help address issues of deferred maintenance and utility costs at Oregon universities.

    Saunders said that OUS typically does not know what the finalized budget is until the summer following the Legislature’s budget process. In this case, Saunders said OUS will not have a finalized state budget until June or July of 2008 for the 2007-09 biennium.

    After reviewing the proposal and taking into account the needs of other institutions, most notably K-12 public schools, the Legislature will finalize the entire Oregon education budget.

    "What we’ll get is uncertain," said Koch. "We know it is going to be a competitive Legislature again." Projected tax increases for the next biennium could be helpful in supplying budget funds, but it’s too soon to tell what those numbers may look like.

    "We like to be optimistic that we’ll get some substantial funding," Koch said.