Monday, September 17, 2012

Panel split on college local rule | Lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a bill that would set up local governing boards for universities

Eugene Register Guard

Lawmakers can’t reach agreement on a bill that would set up local governing boards for universities

Published: September 15, 2012 12:00AM, Midnight, Sept. 15
The team of lawmakers charged with figuring out how local university governing boards would work at Oregon’s public universities failed on Friday to reach consensus on several key issues: Who would be on a local governing board? When would such a board be formed? How would a board raise tuition? And what connections would remain between the university and the state?
“There are going to be gaps, and there’s still some work to be done once it gets into the hands of the Legislature as a whole,” said Rep. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland. “But we think we’ve created a framework here.”
Dembrow described the difficulty of reaching consensus during a joint session in Salem of the state Senate’s Education and Workforce Development Committee and the House Interim Committee on Higher Education.
Out of seven public universities in the state, the University of Oregon and Portland State University are seeking to form institutional boards to govern locally, instead of answering to the state Board of Higher Education.
Lawmakers concluded the state “may benefit” from university-­level governing boards if the boards operate transparently; are closely focused on the individual university; do not hurt universities that opt not to create boards; lead to greater access and affordability for Oregon students; and have a dual fiduciary role to the university and to the state as a whole, according to a rough draft of a bill they plan to introduce in 2013.
Beyond that, agreement gets sketchy.
After 10 sessions, the joint Special Committee on University Governance still couldn’t agree on who, exactly, should be on the university-level boards.
The state Board of Higher Education includes two students and two faculty members along with business and community representatives.
“Some of us feel that that pattern should be replicated on these institutional boards, others disagree. That might not be resolved until we get into the legislative process,” Dembrow said.
The bill tasks the university-level boards with attempting to hold annual tuition and fee increases to the Portland consumer price index, and in any case, not raise it more than 5 percent. “Anything in addition to that, they would need to go to some other statewide entity yet to be named,” Dembrow said.
The 5 percent should not be assumed, said Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.
“Five percent a year is, frankly, too high. Five percent a year as far as the eye can see leads to doubling (of tuition) in a pretty short order,” he said. “I don’t think any of us would feel comfortable saying, ‘Yeah, you can have your 5 percent a year.’”
That’s smaller than the annual increases UO students have paid in recent years.
From 2001 to fall 2012, UO tuition and fees increased 129 percent — landing at $9,309 a year, according to Oregon University System figures.
Another area of confusion: what universities would continue doing together to make movement between them smooth for students and to gain efficiencies of scale.
“We have not really nailed down the whole area of shared services,” Dembrow said. “Almost everyone, or everyone, really, has an interest in our maintaining a system to some extent.”
The most elusive decision seemed to be where the newly independent universities would be connected with the state.
There’s a plethora of education oversight boards, principally Gov. John Kitz­haber’s Oregon Education Investment Board, the Legislature’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the long-standing state Board of Higher Education.
“What we really did was try to find that sweet spot of letting these two universities (UO and PSU) reach their highest potential, yet also maintaining the integrity of the state system,” said Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.
But making sense of the higher education system of the moment proved too big of a job on Friday.
“I won’t say it’s a conundrum,” Hass said, “but it’s still vexing. It’s too many moving pieces that we still have to, frankly, coordinate better. … This is still settling into place.”

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