The President’s Page
Presentation to Board
[note: the slides have been removed from the Web site. They are available for inspection by request.]
Good morning. I am happy to have the opportunity to speak with you again—and to talk about Southern Oregon University more than just in terms of its budget.
I will start today talking about what makes SOU unique, why this institution is so important to our region. Then I will address also a few of the challenges we face and the opportunities before us.
SOU offers a strong liberal arts foundation for excellent career preparation in areas responsive to the needs of our distinctive region. We focus on undergraduate programs, with a few Master’s programs targeted to applied areas such as Business, Education, and Applied Psychology.
Slide 2—American Band College
An example of a unique graduate offering is our American Band College Master's Degree in Conducting in Music. This nationally recognized three-year summer program attracts more than 300 band teachers from across the world who travel to Ashland each year to attend.
SOU highlights strong student-faculty interaction, including undergraduate student research, and we promote academic engagement as well as civic engagement particularly attuned to our rural setting.
We rely on signature liberal arts and sciences programs such as theatre arts, music, and environmental sciences. Our student writers have developed their craft with Oregon’s poet laureate, Lawson Inada. Biology students do fieldwork at Crater Lake, in the redwood forests, and the Oregon desert. Many undergraduates work on research projects with faculty, co-authoring papers and presenting at conferences.
Slide 4—Center of Exc
Some years ago, the Oregon University System designated SOU as a Center of Excellence in the Fine and Performing Arts. We enjoy a strong relationship with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with the art and music communities, with Jefferson Public Radio—but also with OHSU’s nursing program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, and the ScienceWorks Museum, all housed on our property.
Slide 5—NY Times
These relationships, our commitment to student scholarship, and the individualized education we offer are reasons SOU was named by the NY Times as one of twenty hidden gems in higher education alongside Grinnell, Carleton, and others.
These are also reasons that SOU was accepted as a member of COPLAC, the Council on Public Liberal Arts Colleges, which includes institutions, such as Evergreen State and Truman State University, that have been designated as the public liberal arts institution for their state.
As a result of downsizing, we are streamlining and sharpening our curriculum. Many courses are going away, while others are being consolidated. Faculty are working together across disciplines. In the new College of Arts and Sciences that will be launched on July 1, we are strengthening our Environmental Sciences program. We are pulling together pieces of computer science, art, and communication to sharpen a focus on the high-demand areas of web design and multimedia. We are creating stronger, more forward-looking programs to meet regional needs and appeal to a wide array of students.
Strong connections between students and faculty are mentioned most often as the reason students choose SOU. Our faculty are strongly connected to their teaching. Ninety-three percent of our faculty hold PhD’s or the highest degree in their field. A number of our faculty are establishing national and international reputations in their fields.
With our strengthening commitment to faculty-student research, faculty are increasing their contract and grant activity. Grant money allows Professor Greg Jones to assist the Oregon wine industry. Contract money allows Mark Tveskov and his students to assess the impact of the Pacific Connector Pipeline on historic communities and allows Marny Rivera to work with courts providing treatment and stabilizing families impacted by the methamphetamine problem.
We are gaining important ground in our ability to write successful proposals to agencies from the City of Ashland to the National Science Foundation and attract new resources. New and current grant awards this year are up almost half a million dollars over the past two years.
Slide 10-- VP
And who are SOU students? Part of what makes SOU unique is the students we serve. They are not, overall, the students you might expect at a liberal arts university in beautiful Ashland. First of all, and very significantly, SOU is a Title III school: over 68% of our students take advantage of some form of financial aid.
In 2005-06, 1,520 SOU students received Pell Grants (nearly 20% more than our peers—which includes COPLAC institutions) and 763 students received Oregon Opportunity Grants. Last year, SOU students received more than $2,500,000 in scholarships.
Slide 11—fast facts
Most scholarships stipulate that students attend full-time. However, SOU is increasingly a school of choice for older students, many of whom attend part-time. Increasingly, our students are not coming directly from high school to SOU. On average, our students are three years older than the students of our peer universities. Many need degree completion programs to finish what they started. Many of our students are place-bound, because of jobs and families. About 53% of our students are considered first generation college attendees. For them, college can be a truly foreign experience, and they often don’t have positive reinforcement to persist to graduation.
Slide 12—fast facts
Interestingly, a disproportionately high number of our incoming freshmen indicate that they don’t plan to stay to receive a degree from SOU; many are Southern Oregon residents planning to go on to programs in engineering, pre-pharmacy, and so on—but intend to stay at SOU, saving money, just for the first year or so before they go farther away to school. (Naturally, we hope that we encourage at least some of those students to stay with us through their undergraduate experience.)
SOU also has the highest percentage of students with documented disabilities of any Oregon four-year public institution of our size. We have ramped up our ability to provide services for these students, and now we find that students with disabilities are transferring to SOU from other schools because of the services we offer. As the number of deaf students increases, for example, we need interpreters, captioned media, and different equipment in the residence halls.
Another challenge is the dramatic rise in students with Asperger's Syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders. Their numbers will double this fall. SOU has also seen a 25% increase in the number of students with reported psychiatric disabilities in the past two years.
Slide 13—fast facts
In comparison to our peers, our students are older, have more limited incomes, come from families without college education—and more have documented disabilities.
SOU helps these and many of our students succeed. Our students with disabilities actually have a higher persistence rate than the general student population at SOU—in part because of the quality of services we offer. Our student athletes’ graduation rate is 93% for students who complete their eligibility at SOU.
Karla Nelson is a non-traditional student who recently received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, which pays $50,000 per year for 6 years of postgraduate work. Erim Gomez has been doing undergraduate research on different species of crayfish in our region and has won a significant fellowship to attend a doctoral program at Washington State.
We have a student body that is committed to civic engagement. Community-based learning is one of SOU’s distinctive characteristics—and one reason SOU has joined the Talloires Network, a committed group of some 200 institutions worldwide demonstrating their collective commitment to civic education.
Students have just voted to tax themselves to pay for green tags. The fee will offset 100% of SOU's energy consumption, including electricity and natural gas used to power all university facilities. With this vote, SOU will become the first Oregon campus to offset all of its electricity and natural gas with renewable energy added to the grid.
A leader of this effort was Laura Rost, who just won the Oregon Campus Compact Faith Gabelnick statewide Student Leadership Award.
We have many star students. However, we also have many students who struggle financially and personally. Helping our students stay in college and succeed is one of the significant challenges we face as an institution. Over 17,000 SOU alumni work in Oregon, 8,000 of them in Jackson County alone. Our student successes are SOU’s major contribution to the communities of Southern Oregon.
The biggest challenges SOU face right now are enrollment and retention, which contribute, of course, to financial challenges. We are making changes that will improve new recruitment as well as retention numbers. However, the student demographics I described contribute significantly to the challenges we face.
Extensive research shows—and our SOU data corroborate—that income, age, and lack of family education negatively impact student persistence in college. We are trying to counter these demographic factors, providing services for a wide variety of student types.
In our budget retooling, we made painful reductions in staff and faculty partly so that we would not have to rely on steep tuition increases to fix our situation. But going to SOU is still far more expensive than attending public liberal arts universities in many other states—while our median family incomes are lower. A full-time undergraduate Oregon resident living on campus can expect to spend about $17,000 per year to cover all expenses at SOU.
Our student population is very price sensitive. The number of students we serve has hovered around 5,000 for the past 5 years. However, during the same period, our FTE has declined as our state funding has declined and our tuition has increased. Students are taking fewer classes, and some are dropping out when the burden becomes too heavy.
While student recruitment and retention are significant challenges, I also want to mention faculty recruitment and retention. SOU faculty salaries are about 83% of those of faculty at COPLAC institutions. Departments increasingly have failed searches or must take a third or fourth candidate rather than their top choices. One department recently closed with its ninth candidate. Moreover, faculty are also leaving SOU for institutions that offer higher salaries and a more affordable housing market.
We have extraordinary faculty at SOU. However, years of budget cutting—with this year being the most severe in its impact on academics—have taken their toll. I am working with folks throughout the university to improve morale and create strong teams to rebuild SOU—but there’s no doubt this is a difficult task after years of damage.
And, while I am listing challenges, I will mention our facilities. Space for students in our stellar Theatre program is beyond capacity. Currently, our faculty and students are using every available space in the theater building --even halls and closets--for faculty offices, for classrooms, and for designing and storing sets. We won’t be able to accept more Theatre majors than we have now—and they’re applying from all over the United States.
Our Science Building is another priority for renovation and expansion. Beyond the need for more and updated space for our science programs and labs, we have serious repair and maintenance issues. Our labs are greatly in need of being updated. The basement floods.
Our boiler heating system has a useful life of 50 years, and it’s 70 years old now. Some of our classroom buildings were particularly uncomfortable this winter, which was exceptionally cold for Ashland.
Thus—when people ask, “Why aren’t you retaining your students? You have such an idyllic setting in beautiful Ashland,” do remember that many of our students are struggling to feed their families—and the beautiful setting, accompanied by a high cost of living, isn’t helping them stay in school. And students who are able to make choices about where to attend college may choose a campus with newer residence halls and with classrooms and labs more conducive to teaching and learning. Of course, this isn’t just SOU’s problem. As all of you know, many Oregon students are opting to go to other states for their education.
I won’t complain any more. Let me address some of things we’re doing to address our challenges.
Slide 17—civic engagement
We are doing extensive planning and reorganization to increase student retention, promote enrollment growth, and increase access. These initiatives are crucial to SOU’s sustainability. To increase retention, vice president Jonathan Eldridge, has developed an integrated electronic approach, coupled with effective personnel in a reorganized “one stop” student support center.
This centralized approach is already improving our ability to help students confront myriad planning challenges: class scheduling, four-year academic plan creation, career planning, budgeting, and time management. If SOU receives some help from the legislature, we will incorporate a suite of software, as well as critical additional support for advising to assist students.
We are participating in the national Foundations of Excellence program that helps us gather data to revamp our first year student experience. We are also paying attention to our transfer students and how to make a seamless transition for them when they arrive from another institution.
The recruitment challenge is formidable. To bring back student enrollment lost since 1999, SOU needs to recruit effectively, building a strong freshman class every year for the next decade. We are ambitiously working to have 100 more new students this fall than we had in fall 2006. Initial indications suggest that our incoming class will indeed be larger than last year’s.
We have developed a powerful recruiting/marketing plan to attract both traditional and non-traditional students. The plan includes revamping marketing materials, introducing a more student-focused web presence, rethinking new student orientation, and creating a pre-enrollment summer program that will help ensure student success.
Slide 18—Raider Reach Out
Our Student Affairs group has developed a program titled Raider Reach Out designed to organize people interested in taking an active role in student recruitment and retention. Raider Reach Out makes it easy for faculty, staff, current students, alumni, and friends of the university to offer their expertise and energy to our recruitment efforts.
We have begun a number of these initiatives; once again, only with support from the legislature this year, can we carry out this plan effectively.
We also need to increase access to SOU through high quality online programs and courses for working students and for individuals throughout the region. The communities of southern Oregon and northern California have strongly requested online programs that achieve the quality of face-to-face class experiences.
In 2005, the criminology program began offering its degree completion program online. Our School of Business, which currently offers online post-baccalaureate certificate programs, will offer its Accounting program online starting this summer. With the retirement of an Associate Provost, we are hiring a director of distance learning to help us increase online access.
However, increasing online options also requires supporting course development, training faculty, and providing appropriate technological support. These efforts need to be coordinated and supported effectively to maintain program quality . The work requires both commitment and resources.
The recruitment and retention planning we have done is part of a tremendous amount of planning being done all over the university. One ambitious plan is the creation of a College of Arts and Sciences, which I have spoken to you about in conjunction with our retrenchment. Although conceived partly as a cost-saving measure, the new college will also strengthen the focus and increase the visibility of SOU, underscoring our mission to provide a strong foundation in areas such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving to prepare students for whatever future they choose.
Another major plan is for the new SOU and Rogue Community College Higher Education Center in Medford. The Center will house community college, four year degree and Master’s students in one facility. It will create a unique academic culture beneficial for employers as well as students. Of our new transfer students this past fall, 43% were from Rogue Community College—and we hope that percentage will increase as our partnership with RCC matures and our new building opens in 2008. The Center will also serve as a platform to advance our distance education offerings.
Slide 21—Deer creek
Yet another exciting plan is for the Deer Creek Field Station in the Illinois Valley, a partnership with the Siskiyou Field Institute. We will start classes there next summer.
These plans are moving forward, as are plans in a number of other areas. But right now SOU has no coherent over-arching strategic plan to connect and make sense of the pieces.
The Mission Statement you see on this slide is the one that is being used for our accreditation, and it’s been used for the past six years; however, it has never been widely discussed or accepted by the campus.
For a number of years, this institution has faced such disabling budget cuts that planning has mostly centered on survival. Because the budget cutting this year was more strategic, we have begun to focus more steadily on what we do well. Also, we are finishing a reaccreditation self-study, and our site visit in October will undoubtedly provide further focus for us.
This spring we put together a strategic planning process and small working group to get the planning process underway. Our mission, vision, and goals will be reviewed and refined by this summer.
The plan for SOU will focus in part on clusters of partnerships already in place that reflect the unique nature of our region. We partner with the National Park Service through the Crater Lake Trust and the Klamath Network Inventory. We partner with the Siskiyou Field Institute at Deer Creek and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory. With these powerful partners, we are leveraging our limited resources to build even stronger teaching and research programs linked to the distinctive features of our region.
Another cluster of partners reflects the demographics of our region, the retirement population. With 1800 participants per year SOU has the largest Elderhostel program in the Pacific Northwest on our campus. Recently we became the first university in the west invited to join Elderhostel's new initiative, Road Scholar, to serve the Baby Boomers as they move into retirement.
Slide 24—Baby Boomers
The Southern Oregon Learning In Retirement—SOLIR—program is the largest of its kind in the Northwest with over 670 members who are both teaching and taking classes.
With all these efforts, SOU serves nearly 2,500 older adults each year. We partner with OHSU’s School of Nursing, located on our campus, and with Pacific Retirement Services, which has 19 locations throughout the west and has many SOU graduates in its employ. SOU’s strategic plan will provide a framework for highlighting these important partners, enabling us to better serve the greying population of our region and better prepare students for careers that serve this population as well.
Our plan will not focus on creating new programs on top of what we already have. It will streamline our focus, build on what we’re already doing well, and align curriculum with our unique partners, students, and region.
By the end of academic year 2007-2008, we will have a university strategic plan with clarified mission, reasonable goals, action steps, and priorities. The plan will develop from a vision that we understand among ourselves and can communicate to donors, community members, legislators, and potential students. The plan will provide underpinning for a capital campaign as well as for individual directions within departments and divisions across the university. The plan will also provide a framework for a more transparent budget process and more effective academic program review processes.
This has been a very difficult year. However, through hard work, soul-searching, and extensive consultation, we are addressing some long-time systemic issues, bringing the university into the 21st century in significant ways, and engaging faculty, staff, students and community members in conversations about our future.
Southern Oregon University is a valuable resource for Oregon. We’re a unique institution because our region is distinctive, and we serve a distinctive student body. As we craft the new SOU, we are building a culture that supports those students. With a few very special partners, we’re building an academic and extracurricular environment that responds to the character of the region as well as to the needs of the region.
SOU needs to invest strategically in student recruitment, student success, and access. With a relatively small infusion of resources, I believe we can increasingly make a tremendous difference to our region—and offer students unique opportunities to learn and to become responsible citizens in an environment that is both supportive and academically challenging.
We have survived. I hope we will have the opportunity to thrive. I will certainly do my part to help it succeed.
Thank you very much. I will be happy to answer questions.