Southern Oregon University’s search for its next president is about to enter the final phase after the third of three finalists arrived on campus Thursday for a tour and a town hall-like forum.

Like the other two finalists, Linda Schott’s forum, held in the campus Science Auditorium in Ashland, was open to the public. It lasted a little less than an hour, starting with a 20-minute presentation — complete with a slide show — by Schott, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Schott, who received a master’s in history from Stanford in 1982 and a doctorate in history and humanities from Stanford in ’86, is the president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Touted as “a specialist in intellectual history and the history of women in the United States” on UMPI’s biography webpage, Schott authored “Reconstructing Women’s Thoughts: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1941,” published in ’97 by Stanford University Press.

Schott opened by talking about her upbringing in Texas and said neither of her parents graduated from high school.

“It wasn’t because they weren’t smart,” she said, “it was because they didn’t have the opportunity. But they made sure that I had the opportunity to get a great education.”

Schott said when she arrived at UMPI in 2012, it was a university that didn't set itself apart from other universities, with “no clear vision and no clear sense of direction." To her, the first step in turning things around was acknowledging the root of its declining enrollment.

“I began on campus by really helping everyone understand what the situation was,” she said, “creating the belief that we really did need to change, making a compelling case for change.”

Schott said that by the fall of 2015, UMPI began to see increased enrollment and higher student retention.

Later, during the question-and-answer session, she elaborated on how partnering with Royall & Company, which specializes in enrollment management, financial aid optimization and alumni fundraising, helped UMPI increase its reach.

“I am not going to pretend to be an expert on marketing, other than to know that you have to have excellent programs that you can then market and figure out what your niche in that market is going to be,” Schott said.

During her presentation, Schott referenced “College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Our Students,” by Jeffrey J. Selingo.

In it, Schott said, Selingo noted that the number of graduates from the most economically advantaged families has increased to about 82 percent, while that number has dropped to 8 percent for students from the least economically advantaged families.

“This is a tremendous gap, and it is a threat to the future of the nation if you don’t figure out a way to resolve that issue,” Schott said. “So, it’s institutions like this one that can really play a critical role in figuring out how to serve these students who may not have all the resources that they need to get the education that we want them to have and that they want to have.

“You’ve been through some tough times in the last few years,” she said in conclusion. “You’ve lost colleagues who retired or were let go, and you’ve struggled with their absence from your community. I would want, if I were your president, to make sure that the community here is solid and healthy and knows that it is valued. Because only when we truly have that empowerment and sense of being valued will everyone really bring their very best to their work every day and feel really good about the job that they’re doing.

“If I were your president and we could get that alignment, then we would secure the future of this institution, the future of the success of our students and the future of this region.”

Finalists Schott, Michael Tidwell and Terry Allison were selected from 77 candidates by a search committee made up of members of SOU’s Board of Trustees, SOU faculty, staff, alumni, students, Oregon Tech President Chris Maples and community members. The board will meet in executive session Monday to rate the three, and board chairman Bill Thorndike will negotiate with the top choice. If all goes well, SOU will announce its decision next week.

Tidwell, a dean at Eastern Michigan, visited SOU May 25-26, and Allison, chancellor of Indiana University South Bend, was on campus Wednesday and Thursday.

For more information on SOU’s search, see presidentialsearch.sou.edu/campus-visits.

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.