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Funding Risks and Scenario Planning

With a College as big as ours, most days are filled with a churn of short-run issues that involve quick turnarounds. But one of the things that I enjoy and admire about our dean, Andrew Marcus, is his ability to always see the big picture and insist that we attend to that as well. For example, he often takes time to simply chat with people about how their lives are going when you know that he’s currently under a pile of difficult issues or decisions. And he always keeps the long-run direction of the College and University part of our conversation even in our busiest periods.

It’s not surprising then that the new political administration has had our attention from day one. It brings new and uncertain directions that intersect with other risks that we ignore at our peril. These risks and uncertainties range from ones of personal safety to ​how we manage discourse in our society to major changes in policy and government funding.

As Andrew outlined in his blog post last week, we find these new challenges serious enough that we are undertaking scenario planning sessions led by Andre LeDuc, Chief Resilience Officer Associate Vice President of Safety and Risk Services, which will include our Wise Heads (department head advisors to the Dean). As we go forward, we certainly want to hear from many other voices in our College as well.

One significant set of risks are connected to our funding streams, and this demands our attention because our available financial resources clearly impact our ability to provide a quality education to our students and to maintain the forward momentum of our research agendas. ​I’ll take the opportunity in this blog post to highlight some of the main funding risks  that have our greatest attention.

Proposed Federal Budget Cuts

One of the unpredictable factors that creates risk is the FY18 federal budget. As Andrew Marcus shared in a recent email to department heads and managers, the “skinny budget” proposed by the Trump administration cuts at the heart of many things we value, especially our research and scholarship activities in many parts of the College.

Betsy Boyd, Associate Vice President for Federal Affairs, describes the budget as “skinny” in both its brevity and also in the deep cuts it proposes to important programs, including:

  • $5.8B cut to the National Institutes of Health
  • $4B reduction of the Pell grant “surplus”
  • 5% reduction of the Department of Education budget
  • Reductions in Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy science programs
  • Elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts

Oddly, there is no mention of the $7B National Science Foundation budget, which perhaps is excluded from cuts. David Conover, Vice President for Research and Innovation provides his initial assessment of the proposed budget here.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal represents only the first step in what will be a very long and probably highly contentious process, which will eventually result in a final budget. If realized, these cuts could have a profound impact on external funding for CAS departments and also work study opportunities for our students.

Tuition Revenue At Risk

Another issue that has great potential to create financial instability is the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration and visas.

As with the federal budget, this is a topic that is far from settled, but we could experience short-term fallout even as policies evolve and court challenges are mounted. Many CAS departments have already taken on extra work to assist international scholars with their work visa status.

These new immigration policies could also have a deleterious local impact on UO tuition income, which is the university’s primary source of revenue. The fear is that new visa and immigration restrictions—not just the current reality of these rules but also the threat of additional exclusions and enforcements—will put us at risk of losing international students. This year, international enrollment reached nearly 13% of the total student body, or a total of 3,000 students. A substantial decline in our international students would not only affect this important source of diversity on our campus, but could also threaten tuition revenues.

It is too early to tell to what extent these restrictions—or perceived concerns about restrictions—will make international students unwilling or unable to risk applying (or returning) to a U.S university. While students must place a deposit with us by May 1 to declare their acceptance of admission, we won’t really know the final numbers until Fall term begins.

$1.8 Billion State Budget Deficit

Tuition revenue uncertainty is inextricably tied to another issue of ongoing concern: the state budget. Oregon’s decades-long state disinvestment in higher education is the reason we have had to balance the UO budget on the backs of students and their parents.

In the 1970s, state funding comprised 35% of our budget, but that percentage has plummeted over the decades (beginning in the 1990s, with Measure 5) and is now down into the single digits. And yet despite the much lower level of funding, these state dollars are still important to us: an additional decrease of just one percentage point would lead to a revenue cut of well over $5M.

The State of Oregon is facing a $1.8B deficit in the coming biennium (2017-19), and lawmakers are scrambling to devise a plan that will avoid devastating cuts to K-12, health care, social services, and more. The Governor’s budget for higher education recommends $667.3 million in operating funds for all seven public university campuses in Oregon, which would mean a modest cut to UO’s annual state allocation.

The UO has joined with the other six public universities in the state to urge the state legislature to increase this amount by $100 million in order to preserve financial aid and student services. But the prospects for this are not promising.

These are the major risks that we see from a financial perspective. While we will continue to advocate for higher education and the UO in these various external arenas, it is important that we develop a set of principles and systems that allow us to optimally respond to changes ahead. But there is also a key anchor for our responses to whatever we face – our shared goals and mission as a vibrant public research university.

As always, we welcome your comments via email, or through our Suggestion Box.

Bruce Blonigen
Dean of Faculty and Operations



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