Higher ed system promotes recruitment

for the Mail Tribune

SALEM — A $9 million appropriation to help Oregon's regional universities recruit new students and retain those already enrolled has been restored to the higher education budget.

Southern Oregon University in Ashland can probably expect to receive about $2 million when the State Board of Higher Education meets, either in July or September, said George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System.

SOU President Mary Cullinan called the decision "wonderful" news.

"I'm deeply grateful to the Legislature and the people of the state of Oregon," she said Tuesday.

"I've been working on a recruitment plan, so this comes at a good time," Cullinan said. She said SOU hopes to increase the size of the incoming freshman class over the next few years.

Earlier this year, the co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee had reduced the governor's original request for $9 million for student retention to just $2 million. That triggered an outpouring of concern from the regional universities, which have been struggling to maintain enrollments.

Thanks to a rosy May revenue forecast, the co-chairs, Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, and Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, decided to add another $40.6 million for higher education. They instructed the Oregon University System to decide what programs to restore.

Pernsteiner and the Legislative Fiscal Office agreed the $9 million should go back in. Other add-backs include $6.9 million to help reduce class sizes, $8 million for faculty salary catch-up and $14 million for enrollment growth.

In addition to SOU, the money will be shared by Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and Oregon State University's Cascade campus in Bend.

SOU has gone through a series of budget cuts in recent years and some programs have been eliminated.

Cullinan said enrollment has stabilized at around 5,000 students, but the number of full-time students has gone down and many students are part-timers taking fewer classes. That means less income from tuition.

"We need to increase our full-time enrollment substantially," she said, noting that 80 percent of the college's budget comes from tuition.

"It's critical for the regionals to improve retention," said Pernsteiner, the OUS chancellor. He said each campus will approach the issue separately, which could mean more faculty, counseling "or it could be any number of things."

The education subcommittee of Ways and Means plans to work on the higher education budget into next week before sending a final 2007-09 spending blueprint to the full committee.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem. Reach him at jepsen34@open.org.

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