Funding, pay and graduation rates lag for Oregon universities

Funding, pay and graduation rates lag for Oregon universities

By Corey Paul

The latest numbers show that Oregon's support of higher education has crumbled, faculty pay lags behind other states and graduation rates have crept below the national average.

Contained in the Oregon University System's Fact Book 2010 are the latest signals of the disrepair facing higher education. Below are some highlights from the 132-page report, the full version of which you can read here:

- OUS's share of the general fund decreased from 16.9% in the years 1987-1989 to just 5.8% in the years 2009-2011. Between the two most recent periods reported, 2007-2009 and 2009-2011, the amount OUS received decreased by $78.6 million.

- Faculty at Oregon universities make less money than their counterparts at benchmark institutions. The average salaries of all ranks at the state's public universities measured in the 80th percentile compared to pay at peer universities nationwide. The exception was the Oregon Institute of Technology, which paid 92.2% of the national average.

- Oregon ranked at or slightly below the national average of Bachelor's Degrees awarded at public universities in 2008-2009. Oregon ranked 25th nationally in four-year degrees per population of 10,000 and tied the national average of 33.4%. But in 2009, the state's six-year graduation rate at four-year university's crept below the national average, at 53.3% compared 53.6%.

In response to the latest round of sobering data about Oregon universities,  especially the lack of state support, a new coalition of business leaders has organized to push for progress in Oregon's 2011 Legislative session.

The group is called the Oregon Idea, and it is a project of former Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi with support from Portland Business Alliance CEO Sandra McDonough, Portland General Electric CEO Jim Piro and other leaders from Oregon's business community.

The group's stated goals are to prioritize investments in post-secondary education and to "reform [Oregon's] university system to ensure access for Oregonians." In this case, reform would consist of switching governance of the Oregon University System from a state agency to a public university system, thus giving universities more control over their budgets.

According to a press release sent out this morning, over 1600 Oregonians have pledged support thus far. The group is soliciting feedback and ideas through its website and its Facebook page.

Corey Paul is an associate writer with Oregon Business.