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Did OSU-Cascades Get the Shaft? 

A fraction of requested funds means overcrowding can happen by 2020

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"O

SU-Cascades is the best school ever! The atmosphere and the people are amazing," the Mountain View High School graduate declared on a recent sunny day at the fledgling campus.

OSU-Cascades students love their school. They love the environment, the outdoors, their academic programs, the ability to ski on Mount Bachelor. They love that it's on Bend's west side where they have easy access to Central Oregon Community College, downtown and the Old Mill District.

Lynnea Fredrickson, who commutes from Redmond, acknowledges that if the campus had opened on the Juniper Ridge site at north end of town, as some people wanted, it would have made her drive a little easier. But she wouldn't trade the current location for 10 fewer minutes in the car.

"This area suits the college overall," she said.

That fight is settled, anyway, students said, so what's the point of refighting it? The campus is on the west side. Officials need to look forward, and lawmakers in Salem need to step up.

"This school has so much unlimited potential, but the lack of funds is going to put Central Oregon as a whole behind, not just OSU-Cascades," Fredrickson said. "We want to grow into the university we ought to be."

Insufficient funds

B

$69.5 million
efore this year's legislative session, OSU-Cascades asked for $69.5 million
to fund campus expansion. The money would have gone to renovate the Graduate & Research Center ($500,000); site reclamation of the pumice mine that will someday host campus buildings ($9 million); infrastructure needs such as water, sewer and parking ($10 million); a student union building ($10 million); and a new academic building ($40 million).

When Gov. Kate Brown submitted her official budget ask to the Legislature, she'd whittled that down to $20 million to cover the reclamation and infrastructure.

Then lawmakers cut even more. The final state budget had only $9 million for reclamation work at the pumice mine and the half-million for renovating the Graduate & Research Center.

"Probably my greatest disappointment, and shock, from the session was the gross underfunding of OSU-Cascades. We got a fraction of what we thought we were going to get and don't really know why," said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, whose district stretches into Central Oregon.

Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, felt the same.

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"I have 14 years of work supporting the creation of OSU-Cascades and keeping the goal of a four-year university in Bend alive," he said. "I was disappointed and surprised that the leadership did not provide more than $9 million to keep moving the goal. I am working all my sources to find out what happened."

Some people familiar with the decision suggested that politics had something to do with it. Both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats—the same party as Gov. Brown. Meanwhile, Central Oregon's delegation has a lot of experience and leadership positions in Bend, but it is all Republican. Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, is even Brown's likely opponent as she seeks re-election next year.

"It's a highly political process," said Becky Johnson, the OSU vice president who runs the Cascades campus. She also noted that Rep. Nancy Nathanson, the Democratic co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means committee, is from Eugene, home of the University of Oregon.

Johnson and others had only positive things to say about how the delegation and the region fought for the campus this year.

"I don't see any failing on the part of our delegation. They were strong advocates for the campus all the way through. The community showed up very strongly, too. We had multiple hearings, and many people came over to advocate for the campus. The response we heard from everyone from the governor on down was that the region did a tremendous job advocating for its interests," said Erik Kancler, who owns Kancler Consulting and lobbies on behalf of NOW4 OSU-Cascades, a group that advocates for the campus.

However, Johnson, Kancler and others were quick to say that dwelling on the politics of the last session won't help in the next one. Securing additional funding will be a priority for everyone when the Legislature returns next year.

"I remain optimistic that Gov. Brown understands the priority and need in Central Oregon. We need additional bonding in the 2018 session," Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said.

Money to grow

I

f lawmakers don't come up with more money, it could dampen growth at OSU-Cascades. The school has about 1,200 students already, and it hopes to have 3,000 to 5,000 by 2025. The current facilities cannot accommodate that many students. They need more classrooms, a student center and so on.

"If we don't get out of this biennium with funding for the next academic building, we'll exceed the capacity of the existing campus by 2020. That will mean either overcrowding or turning people away," Kancler said.

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(Click here for HECC funding details.)

First, a more pressing deadline. The school has raised $8.9 million from private donors for construction of the next academic building. The largest gifts include $5 million from an anonymous donor and $1 million from the Tykeson Family Foundation. Most of the contributions, however, are contingent on matching funds from the state to pay for the rest of the building. If the Legislature does not deliver by Dec. 31, 2019, those millions disappear.

Eventually, the school wants to expand into the pumice mine and potentially onto the old landfill next door. OSU already owns the mine, and it is discussing acquiring the landfill from the county. An agreement could be reached any day.

The current campus is 10 acres, the pumice mine is 46 acres and the landfill is 72 acres.

Operational funding from the state, at least, remains healthy, according to data provided by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

In the 2017-18 year, OSU-Cascades will receive $10,955 in state funding per full time equivalent (FTE) student. Only Eastern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology receive more. But that's a different pie than the funds used for new facilities.

OSU-Cascades' take marked a significant increase over the previous year. Kelly Sparks, the school's associate vice president for finance and strategic planning, said two factors led to the increase. First, enrollment growth means that the school receives a larger portion of a fixed pool relative to other schools that aren't growing as fast. Second, a state funding formula changed to better reward student outcomes, and OSU-Cascades students are doing well.

A hybrid school

C

entral Oregon, and Bend in particular, worked for years to land a four-year university, and the region wound up with a school the likes of which no one had seen before.

Today, 70 percent of students are from Central Oregon, and one-third of students are the first generation in their family to attend college. It's a regional school that provides access to students who might not be able to make enrolling far away possible.

OSU-Cascades is not simply a branch campus, despite the "OSU" in the name and orange paint on everything. It's also not an independent institution. It's a hybrid, something in between branch and independent. Oregon's lawmakers and higher education officials haven't quite figured out what that means.

Other branch campuses, like OIT's Wilsonville campus and OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center, grew out of their parent institutions. The universities saw a need and filled it. They received some extra state dollars to get them up and running, but the branches remain subsidiaries.

OSU-Cascades, meanwhile, is independent in so far as it receives operational funding from the state directly.

"If you look back to the legislative intent, all the way back to 2001, the state intended this to operate as an institution that would serve regional needs. It was intended to operate much more like a stand-alone institution," Kancler said.

But when it comes to capital projects, the school is lumped in with OSU as a statewide institution. That's partly because the pool of money for capital needs is shared among the seven universities.

"It's a zero-sum game," Johnson said. "The last thing the other universities want is to divide the pie by eight rather than by seven."

She argues that thinking of the funding that way is the mistake. Rather than worry about slices, Oregonians need to ask if the pie itself is big enough.

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Kancler suggested that the state needs to think about OSU-Cascades as being more independent, especially at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. The HECC coordinates initial capital funding requests for universities to the Legislature. Independence in funding requests from HECC, Kancler said, could elevate the perception of the campus among legislators. Lawmakers might better recognize that they are filling a need for higher education in Central Oregon, not just paying for a branch of OSU.

He also said that HECC and the Legislature need to reconsider how they prioritize projects. Too often they focus on maintaining and improving existing infrastructure. That doesn't work for a new school that needs new buildings, not revitalization.

Optimism for the future

S

parks and Johnson aren't above some administrative cheerleading. OSU-Cascades will survive.

"We're scrappy, we're resourceful, and we're creative in how we use our funds," Sparks said.

Students are aware of the Legislature's underfunding capital requests this year, but they, too, remain optimistic.

"Pretty much the consensus is that it will slow us down a little, but we'll get there," said Ashley Beatty, a Summit High School grad majoring in kinesiology.

"Eventually they'll figure out that they need to fund education," added Alex Fowler, an energy systems engineering major from Los Angeles.

Students recognize that it's a work in progress, especially those who enrolled before the west side campus existed, when OSU-Cascades was at Central Oregon Community College.

"We came in knowing that everything wouldn't be completely ready when we transferred to this campus," said Elsie Charles, a Portlander majoring in liberal studies with an eye toward someday earning a master's degree in teaching.

"I wanted to go to a state school, and Bend seemed like a much more fun place to be than Corvallis," she added. "I originally thought I would transfer to Corvallis, but I decided to stay here because I love it."


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