Taking Action during our Window of Opportunity
In the past five years, Western Oregon University has been faced with steady declines in governmental appropriations. Funding levels for WOU have decreased from nearly $20 million in 2007 ($40 million for the biennium), when the State of Oregon was determined to reinvest in higher education by 10% per biennium. That reinvestment initiative lasted for less than a year as the world-wide and Oregon economies were thrown into turmoil. The expectation for state funding for WOU this current 2011-2013 biennium anticipates two year funding of less than $30 million, a decline of approximately 25%.
The Western Oregon University Tuition Promise was approved by the Oregon State Board of Education in 2007 and was meant to provide assurances that our students and their families could afford and access an education at WOU by planning their costs in advance and avoiding surprises. The "Promise" was predicated on the continuing partnership with state government for a steady source of funding. The result has been that WOU seniors are graduating with the lowest tuition rates in the state and, to make up for the gap in revenues, we have inadvertently and disproportionately burdened incoming students. To help in rectifying that imbalance, we are adopting the "WOU Choice" (as described on the admissions web page) for next academic year with the hope that better options will become apparent. Unlike other state institutions, increasing tuition has only a minor impact on mitigating deficits at WOU because only a portion of our students are affected by increases. While low tuition rates are a good thing, running the academic enterprise becomes very problematic.
For 2011-2013, union labor agreements, and pension costs included increases that have a modest impact on our fund balance reserves this biennium but will have a very significant "roll up" cost for the 2013-2015 biennium. Union labor agreements also set comparable fairness expectations for the rest of our workforce.
Lastly, we have experienced a leveling of the steep enrollment increases experienced in recent years; state demographics and affordability are among the reasons. Outreach efforts to assist the underserved are a necessary part of the state's 40/40/20 strategy. These efforts and the support services necessary for success are not free. To help meet our fiscal needs and diversify our campus community so that our graduates are successful in competing in the global economy, we also strive to attract students from nations around the world.
WOU projects a deficit in the second year of this current biennium with mounting deficits in the next biennium. We expect that we will end the year within our expected fund balance reserve level but we are concerned that next biennium will be fiscally challenged. Other universities in Oregon and around the nation have taken draconian steps as a result of retrenchment activities made necessary on their campuses. This is a position that we at WOU have no desire to find ourselves in. That is why we view the period from now until June 30, 2013 as our "Window of Opportunity", hence our acronym WOO!
Our goal during this Window of Opportunity is quite clear – to set goals, generate ideas, and implement plans that will allow us to continue to thrive in the next biennium and beyond. I am confident that this is achievable with your enthusiasm and creativity; I am proud that our workforce has demonstrated the desire to take on this task.
President 503-838-8888 | or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org