Tight budget will affect Portland State

Portland State’s financial future is still in question as the Oregon State Board of Higher Education decides how to distribute $7.5 million in budget cuts for the 2004-05 school year in the wake of Measure 30’s defeat.

The eleven-member board, headed by former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldshmidt, met March 4 and 5 to discuss where cuts would be made to balance the budget for the rest of the 2003-05 biennium. The board is unlikely to come to an official decision about the amount of the cuts that will be absorbed by Portland State and Oregon’s other public universities until April, but members of the board have tentatively said that they will try to avoid tuition increases in order to balance the budget.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has asked the board to try to avoid further tuition increases in order to keep state universities accessible to as many students as possible, and instead attempt to cut from administrative costs.

“Access remains my number one priority,” Kulongoski said at a press conference in February. “We will look for additional operational and administrative reductions in the chancellor’s office and campus by campus, and we will take those reductions before we resort to tuition increases.”

Although the board has committed to avoiding further tuition increases, tuition for most PSU students will likely be raised by eight percent next year, due to tuition increases that were approved by the board in April 2003. This is in addition to the 18 percent tuition increase that resident undergraduate students saw during the 2003-04 academic year.

PSU students are unlikely to see the effects of the budget cuts right away, according to Michael Driscoll, vice provost of academic personnel and budget.

“We likely to be able to weather the next year of the biennium without additional cuts,” he said.

The real danger, according to Driscoll, is the possibility of funding being reduced further for future years. If funding continues to decline, the place where PSU students are most likely to see the cuts is in the number of classes offered and the number of sections for each class.

“Every department is going to have to scale back on some level,” Driscoll said. “It’s going to cut down on our ability to offer the kind of education that people are looking for.”

For the current round of cuts, Chancellor Richard Jarvis has offered to absorb half of the amount through cuts in the chancellor’s office, potentially cutting the current staff of 152 by as much as one fifth. The exact form of the cuts is not yet certain however, according to chancellor’s office spokesperson Diane Saunders.

According to Saunders, the office is assessing several “what if” scenarios, based on exactly how much the office is actually required to cut by the board. One possibility is that functions like Information Technology services for Oregon’s smaller state schools, which are currently performed by the chancellor’s office, could be transferred to the schools’ administration.

Just how much the chancellor’s office will cut will ultimately be determined by the board, according to Saunders.

“It’s really the board that is doing the review process,” she said.

The median tuition at Oregon’s public universities has more than doubled since 1991, it now averages almost $4,500 per year.