Home Back Issues April 2007 First Person: Commentary from Jim Rudd, CEO of Ferguson Wellman Capital Management

First Person: Commentary from Jim Rudd, CEO of Ferguson Wellman Capital Management

| Print |  Email
Archives - April 2007
Sunday, April 01, 2007

JimRudd0407.jpgThe higher-ed dividend

If public universities in Oregon were a stock, would you buy?

By Jim Rudd

As an investment advisory firm, Ferguson Wellman builds portfolios of publicly traded securities for our clients. Our process is analytical and dispassionate — performance is judged in absolute and relative terms.

Let’s apply the same analytic discipline to evaluate a commodity that many critics lament should be treated more like a business: our public universities. Call it Higher Education Oregon Inc.

I realize that providing a market valuation for public universities might not take into consideration their societal values. But I’m still curious. As assets, how are our universities positioned?

There’s a lot to like. Our universities produce well-educated, technically sophisticated graduates for a workforce in desperate need of both.

Also, the research enterprise of our collective campuses is increasing. Last year, Oregon State University earned $194 million in research awards and Oregon Health & Science University garnered $294 million.

But what is the context for such achievements? Are our universities reaching their full potential?

There is definitely market demand for quality higher education. The Oregon In-novation Council identifies a strong K-20 education system as a necessary ingredient for its plan. And according to the Portland-Vancouver Regional Business Plan, most business leaders are concerned about “an inadequate supply of scientific and technical degreed workers at the bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. levels.”

The Oregon University System consists of seven universities and one regional campus governed by the Board of Higher Education and a chancellor. The Legislature and governor are also stewards of the system, which is like others across the country. But what if we were to redesign higher education in Oregon? What would we change? Fewer campuses? Different funding mechanisms? New management structures? Incentive pay? Re-examine the merits of tenure? Would we migrate toward Oregon Health & Science University’s public corporation model?

The public has strong expectations about the access and affordability of education. But each campus operates under rules not imposed in the private sector — they depend on tuition and state funding, which are based on conditions beyond their control.

Let’s take a look at some low-hanging fruit. Each institution generates tuition income from its students. Yet, while many people agree we’re not sufficiently funding our universities, the state refuses to direct interest earned on tuition payments back to the campuses where the tuition was charged. Instead, earnings go to the general fund, where student dollars support other state obligations.

Another example lies in the approach to capital investment in facilities, which are critical to each university’s success. The state can’t meet the construction demands of the system, which has resulted in universities looking to bond financing and private giving. But from Salem comes word that some legislators see these buildings less as strategic investments and more as debt burden and are threatening to stop some projects. Where might that leave universities, some of which are operating at capacity and resorting to enrollment caps?

These are a few of the problems analysts might consider in evaluating the investment worthiness of Oregon’s universities. But the truth is, we’re already invested and are not protecting our asset. Years of declines in state funding have dropped Oregon to 46th among the 50 states in funding per student.

If our universities were publicly traded securities, they would be a questionable addition to anyone’s portfolio. But the importance of our public universities to the economic future of Oregon demands that business leaders take seriously the looming threats to their viability.

It’s time for the Board of Higher Education to rethink the structure of its campuses and the oversight role of the chancellor’s office. Universities should manage their own cash balances and prioritize capital projects based on their return on investment.

Clearly, there is hard work to be done to optimize our return on higher education investments. But it’s a small price to pay for the dividends this asset can yield.

Jim Rudd is CEO of Ferguson Wellman Capital Management and board chair, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Portland branch.


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Downtime

September 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

How State Representative Julie Parrish (House District 37) balances life between work and play.


Read more...

What I'm Reading

September 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kim Ierian, President of Concorde Career Colleges, and Deborah Edward, Executive Director of Business for Culture & the Arts, share their recent reads.


Read more...

Powerlist: Colleges and Universities

September 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation about higher education with the presidents of the University of Oregon and Clackamas Community College, followed by September's powerlist.


Read more...

Risks & rewards of owning triple net investments

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 24, 2014
NNNinvestmentBY CLIFF HOCKLEY | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

With the increasing retirements of Baby Boomers, a massive real estate shift has created a significant increase in demand for NNN properties. The result? Increased demand has triggered higher prices and lower yields.


Read more...

Startup or Grow Up?

September 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
BY JON BELL

Startup culture is all the rage. Is there a downside?


Read more...

Launch

September 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

September's Launch article features Orchid Health, BuddyUp and Inter-Europe Consulting.


Read more...

Molecular Movies

September 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Dr. Chong Fang isn’t God. But the assistant professor of chemistry at Oregon State University is getting closer to figuring out how he put everything together. 


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS