The news was unexpected.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed on Friday a radical reworking of higher education funding in Oregon. According to his 2013-15 state budget plan (PDF), administration of Oregon’s funding for universities and community colleges would be consolidated into a single agency called the Department of Post-Secondary Education. The Oregon Health and Science University would also be rolled into the new higher education department.
According to The Oregonian, the head of the Oregon University System, who is University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner, said “This could provide an integrated approach to funding student success.” Pernsteiner’s department would take cuts under the current proposal, but he may have been encouraged that this would mean the first raise in state funding for higher education in six years.
In addition to consolidating higher education under the plan, Kitzhaber will also have secured his leadership over education in Oregon by personally selecting all board members and executives involved in public education. The new department will also give out money based on how many students graduate, how many of those students find jobs after graduation and retention rate. Before this, money was divided between schools based on student numbers.
The proposal would save money since it is combining agencies and reducing operating costs. It would establish a central building for the agency instead of having offices in Eugene, Salem, Portland and Corvallis.
Kitzhaber intends to move his plan forward within a term, pending legislative approval.
ASUO Vice President Nick McCain was cautiously optimistic about a new higher education department.
“I think it’s going to increase the efficiency of the higher education system,” McCain said. “My slight hesitation is on how Gov. Kitzhaber wants to reward results. It sounds good, I appreciate long-term thinking about the economy of the state of Oregon, but it could end up shifting state funding towards community colleges instead of Universities because they give out shorter term technical degrees.”
McCain referenced Kitzhaber’s 40-40-20 plan, which is aimed at the current class of Oregonian kindergartners. Kitzhaber wants 40 percent of Oregon’s children to obtain bachelor’s degrees, 40 percent to earn associate or technical degrees, and the other 20 percent to have a high school degree by 2025.
“My consistent hope is that Oregon is able to provide more funding for higher education,” McCain said. “Throughout this process, I hope there will be improvements to efficiency, but that nobody gets shortchanged in this and everyone gets improvements to funding. I’d like to think that with a more efficient model, every university will end up benefiting.”