A recent report in the Mail Tribune (“Oregon universities pledge tuition limits if lawmakers hike funding,” June 2) discussed an offer that has been made by Oregon’s public universities to limit tuition increases in coming years if additional state funding is made available in the next biennium.
At Southern Oregon University, we are committed to maintaining affordable tuition while also providing the kind of high-touch student services that are necessary in order to ensure that more students graduate faster. In order for us to do so, the state must provide the additional funding necessary to keep tuition affordable and make additional advisors, faculty and student support services available.
These points were outlined eloquently and accurately in the report; however, toward the end of the article, SOU and Eastern Oregon University are characterized as “facing severe budget crises.” While it is true that SOU has dealt with serious budget issues in recent years, the retrenchment process we entered into in early 2014 was designed specifically to remedy the problems that led to those issues, and I am pleased to report that early indications show our retrenchment plan is accomplishing exactly that.
“Retrenchment” is a technical term included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between SOU and the Associated Professors of SOU. Retrenchment is declared only when there is a need to reduce or eliminate academic programs or faculty positions.
To date, SOU has met or exceeded every single financial and enrollment metric set forth in our retrenchment plan and we are on track to achieve a 10 percent ending fund balance by the end of the 2015-2017 biennium, as outlined in the plan. Ending fund balance is the net accumulation, over time, of annual operating surpluses or deficits and is available for use as a reserve. It is routinely expressed as a percentage of annual operating revenues.
Though we are not completely out of the woods yet and must remain vigilant in order to ensure that these early indications turn into positive outcomes, I am pleased with the work that has been done in the past year and the path that the university is currently on.
Last fall, SOU was the only public university in the state to experience an increase over the prior year in undergraduate enrollment. Although it is still early, our current data indicate that, compared to last year at this time, we are seeing double-digit increases in the number of applications received and prospective students who have been admitted and confirmed for fall 2015 enrollment.
Southern Oregon University has experienced a lot of successes in the past year: We have seen the appointment of our inaugural Board of Trustees; we have forged new partnerships with local and regional high schools and community colleges; we have increased the number of minority students, transfer students and degrees conferred; we have made capital improvements and upgrades; our athletics program had its most successful season in history; and we have embraced and been embraced by our local community like never before.
On June 13 we will confer degrees on approximately 1,000 SOU graduates during our annual Commencement ceremony. It is my belief that the most important contribution SOU makes to the region and the state is graduating well-prepared students with the skills and training needed to ensure we have a well-trained workforce going forward in the 21st century. SOU has long been a powerful economic engine for our local communities — with an impact that surpasses $200 million annually. Additionally, surveys of our recent graduates tell us that a large majority of them remain to work in Oregon.
This has been an exciting and successful year for SOU, and although there is much hard work yet to be done before we can say that we achieved all of the goals set forth in our retrenchment plan, we are well on our way. Due to the efforts of the entire SOU community, we can safely and accurately say that we are strong and we are well positioned for the future.
Roy Saigo is president of Southern Oregon University.