by Tommy Love
The heart of Western Oregon University's beauty lays not our historic buildings and manicured grounds. Rather our beauty lies in our history – a history of providing hope to those who want to achieve more, to better their families and to make a difference in the lives of others. This history speaks to our core value of reaching out to all and understanding that our greatest natural resources are not limited to forests, rivers, mountains, or the coastline, but also includes the “underserved” populations of our state. As believers in the impact of an education from WOU, we must invest in these resources.
This past fiscal year was our greatest ever in terms of fundraising success. With nearly $3 million raised, we surpassed our next highest year of 2001 by nearly 40 percent. Just as important, we saw an increase in the number of alumni donors, total donors, number of gifts, and the average size per gift from the previous year. These increases are extremely important as we must increase our base of donors instead of placing so much on the shoulders of so few or relying on public funds. With declining state support (down from $19.1 million in 2007 to $13.5 million this year), building a strong culture of private philanthropy is the key to our success in the coming years.
Over the next 10 to 15 years we will see what could be the most transformative span in the history of our university. This transformation is driven by a substantial expected growth in enrollment and our obligation to ensure access and affordability to each and every student. The priority to increase the educational focus of our state is driven in large part by the governor’s 40-40-20 plan with goals of 40 percent of Oregonians earning a four-year degree, 40 percent earning a two year degree and 20 percent holding a high school diploma by 2025. As a result of this unfunded initiative, it is estimated that WOU will be serving an additional 2,000 Oregonians each year pushing our student body to well over 8,000! To meet the challenges ahead, everyone will have to help.
In the summer of 2011, the City of Monmouth approved our new Master Plan outlining expectations and priorities through 2020. Among other areas, this plan outlines new and renovated academic facilities, residence halls, and student service facilities creating a campus environment to meet the changing needs of the students we serve. By the fall of 2013 we will have checked off priority number one as we complete the DeVolder Family Science Center adding over 22,000 square feet of academic and laboratory space to our campus footprint. Although construction is now underway, we are still working to complete the fundraising component with gifts of all levels still needed.
Photo: Construction is underway on the new the DeVolder Family Science Center, which will add over 22,000 square feet of academic and laboratory space to our campus.
Next on the horizon is a new building for College of Education, which is currently on the “short list” of priorities for the Board of Higher Education and awaiting approval from our friends in Salem. As part of the current budget proposal, we will need to secure $1.5 million in private philanthropy to make the facility a reality. Once completed, we will begin to see a domino effect leading to other renovations to increase our capacity in other academic areas including nursing, business, mathematics, and computer science.
We are excited about the growth of our campus in every way except one –the growth of student debt. Student debt for the average graduating senior this past June was just over $26,000. New facilities are critical to our academic quality and essential to meeting the needs of a rapidly changing society and world-wide economy—but what good are the buildings if the students are not able to afford to attend? This concern lead to the creation of the Tuition Choice, which allows families to choose between our forward-thinking Tuition Promise (with a fixed tuition cost over four years) or to select a variable rate with increases each year allowing for saving during earlier years.
The greatest investment you can make is in the students of Western through scholarships. This truly is priority one! By contributing to current-use or endowed scholarships, you help to reduce the debt burden placed on our students. In the past, a student could work during the summer and earn enough to pay for schooling the next year. How do I know this? I have heard this over and over from alumni who share their personal stories and experiences. This simply is not the case today as students have the difficult task of managing academics with an increasing amount of hours at jobs both on and off campus to make ends meet. This constant juggling act results in fewer hours studying and decreases their ability to add to campus life and leadership by being involved in clubs and organizations.
How do we improve the safety and security of our community? How do we add to our cultural climate? How do we improve our state and national economy? How do we improve our overall quality of life? How do we solve the greatest problems of today and tomorrow? The answer is simple – by investing in our future.