Stakeholder funding seen as key to keeping experiment stations viable
By MITCH LIES
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences is looking to stakeholders to help fund the college's 11 branch experiment stations.
College administrators hope to generate 25 percent of each station's funding from sources outside the normal budget channels.
In addition to providing a needed boost to operating costs, college administrators say the money will help show state lawmakers how important the stations are to stakeholders.
It also will serve as a barometer to help administrators weigh the value of each station.
"If push comes to shove, we're going to have to make some pretty tough decisions," said Bill Boggess, executive associate dean of the college. "At that point, local support will be one factor we use to determine which stations stay open and which don't."
OSU's branch experiment station is a research arm of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The push for outside funding was triggered by university budget cuts that have slashed College of Agricultural Sciences funding 15 percent the past two years.
Lawmakers have informed university staff that cuts could go as deep as 25 percent in the 2011-13 budget cycle.
The outside-funding model is one of several approaches university administrators are taking to offset the budget cuts.
Among other approaches, administrators are looking to combine some station administration and other costs with local extension service operations.
But outside funding could be a key to the college's ability to continue operating all of its experiment stations.
"In the past, we had the luxury of strong state support," Boggess said. "Now it's not clear to us that we can maintain the (existing) core faculty and infrastructure, if we are looking at the kind of cuts that some have suggested."
Thirty years ago, state funds covered nearly half the operating costs at Oregon State University, OSU President Ed Ray said in a recent editorial published in the Oregonian newspaper. Today, state funds cover only about 13 percent of the university's costs, he said.
In part because of strong state support, the College of Agricultural Sciences has maintained several experiment stations to serve the varied needs of Oregon agriculture -- needs that persist because of what Boggess calls "the many unique agroclimatic zones" of Oregon.
Boggess, who was raised in Iowa, notes that in some Midwestern states, only one experiment station serves an entire state. In Oregon, he said, that wouldn't work.
"There is more diversity between Hood River and The Dalles in terms of rainfall than there is in the whole state of Iowa," Boggess said.
Boggess said it now is important for stakeholders to step up and show the value of the individual stations to lawmakers.
"How can we go to Salem and say, 'You should give us money to maintain this program when (stakeholders) don't see any benefit from it?" Boggess said. "That's a hard sell in Salem in these kind of budget environments."
Given local support, Boggess said, administrators can hold lawmakers' feet to the fire.
"We hope to use this in Salem as an indication of how important these (stations) are, that these people have stepped up and the state needs to honor that. These stations have shown there is local support, they are stepping up, now the state needs to maintain these stations," Boggess said.
"We are going to need every iota of support possible on behalf of the people we serve in order to maximize whatever we might get from the state Legislature on the next round," Associate Dean Stella Coakley said.
What counts towards 25 percent?
Administrators say they hope to replace 25 percent of each branch station’s budget with outside funding to offset reductions in state support.
For example, at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 25 percent of the annual experiment station budget equals $190,000. Funding for extension and education programs isn’t included in that amount.
Funding for individual research projects will not count toward the 25 percent, administrators said.
External stakeholder support eligible for consideration toward the 25 percent include station endowments, direct salary support and other recurring core needs for the stations.