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OSU adapts as economy changes


University leaders work to anticipate changes in funding, demographics

Analysis

By MITCH LIES
Capital Press

Oregon State University has the dual goal in coming years of doing more with less and doing it better.

The university, according to OSU President Ed Ray, wants by 2025 to be one of the nation's top land-grant universities.

Ray's goals for 2025, as outlined in a recent speech, include 50 percent higher enrollment, a higher percentage of graduate students, more minority students and faculty, and more high-achieving students.

Achieving these goals, Ray said, would be a "daunting task under the best of circumstances. And our circumstances are unlikely to be the best for the foreseeable future."

The university expects to lose as much as $20 million in funding for the current biennium. And indications are fewer state general fund dollars will be steered the university's way in the next 15 years.

OSU, like other West Coast land-grant universities, is grappling these days with a changing dynamic -- changes both in who the universities serve and how they serve them.

To survive and thrive into the 21st century, Ray recognizes that OSU, like other land-grant universities, must adapt.

When the land-grant university system was established under the 1862 Morrill Act, most Americans farmed. It made sense -- both politically and scientifically -- to funnel public money to the enterprise.

Today, most Americans are two, three or four generations removed from a farm: Funneling money to farm education, while still vital for the health of the nation, is less defensible politically and has far fewer advocates.

As late as the 1960s, state funding accounted for more than 60 percent of land-grant university budgets.

State funding for OSU in the current biennium is 17 percent of its budget, according to College of Forestry Dean Hal Salwasser. And that could drop to 13 percent if two measures Oregon voters will consider in January fail and lawmakers follow through on projected budget cuts.

The bottom line, according to Salwasser, is the state is on course in 15 years to fund 10 percent of OSU's budget.

The university, he said, will need to rely more on science foundations and federal grants, and increased partnerships with industry. Ray in his speech said the university is seeking to double revenue from research grants and contracts and fundraising.

Salwasser, who is executive dean of one of four divisions administrators have created for the university's 11 colleges, also said it is important to streamline costs. That could involve sharing administrative functions across colleges and it could involve some reconfiguring of departments.

It also could involve regionalization of services, he said.

"It's conceivable we could see more of the sort of thing that Eastern Oregon has experienced: Where you've got one agent serving several counties."

The university might be leaner, he said, but administrators will do everything they can to keep in place skilled agents.

The university is far from finalizing its realignment.

"To some degree, and maybe to a large degree, we won't know what the outcomes are going to look like until we get through the process," Salwasser said.

Administrators currently are taking input from professors, extension agents, directors of experiment stations and constituents.

Ultimately, if the realignment goes as planned, OSU will be bigger, better and more suited to meet the future needs of Oregonians.



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