WOU pursues institutional governing board of trustees to better serve Oregon students

WOU logo Western Oregon University (WOU) announced its choice to pursue an institutional board of trustees for governance and will formally file its request with the Oregon State Board of Higher Education as authorized in Senate Bill 270. WOU’s decision comes on the heels of recent ten-year projections showing continued financial health for the institution. This choice is the path also recently taken by the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University.

“A board of trustees dedicated to the university’s success will position us to continue doing what we do best: educating Oregonians. Our size enables individualized attention in smaller classes, a focus on excellent faculty and support services, and mentoring that supports students,” said WOU President Mark Weiss. “WOU envisions continued expansion of innovative programs, facilities and ways in which courses are delivered. Our strengths in serving students, especially those who have been out of school and are returning, will help Oregon achieve its goals for a competitive, educated workforce.”

WOU believes an independent board, vested in its success, will best serve Oregon students because:

  • WOU is the ‘most Oregon’ of all the state universities, with the highest percentage of Oregon residents in its overall student body:  81.7 percent.
  • WOU has the highest percentage of Oregon residents in its graduate programs among Oregon state institution: 91.6 percent.
  • WOU’s students come from every county in the state; over 62 percent of students qualify for the Pell grant based on financial need.
  • For Oregon resident-students receiving financial aid at WOU, as many as 65 percent have one or both parents who have not attended college. Yet in fall 2013, WOU students at every level were taking a higher number of credits than at any other regional Oregon institution, and had a comparable credit load to students at Oregon State University.
  • WOU excels at attracting a diverse student body from Oregon residents and has been recognized nationally for closing the gap in graduation rates for Hispanic students.

More information on WOU’s strengths and 10-year financial forecast is available online.

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FACT SHEET –  Western Oregon University pursues institutional governing board of trustees

What’s happening in Oregon higher education?
Higher education in Oregon has been restructuring since 2010, with agencies and authority either changed or in the process of changing. As of July 1, 2014, much of the authority previously held by the State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) will move to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). This includes 1) statewide policy authority for public universities, 2) policy-making authority for community colleges, and 3) policy-making authority (for student access and financial aid) from the Oregon Student Access Commission. In addition, the Oregon University System and Chancellor’s office is downsizing as the larger public universities (UO, OSU and PSU) transition to their own institutional boards of trustees as of July 1, 2014 and the four remaining institutions plan for governance choices to take effect July 1, 2015.

What is Senate Bill 270 and what did it do?
Senate Bill 270 was passed in 2013 to move the three largest Oregon universities (UO, OSU and PSU) from centralized, statewide oversight by the Oregon University System to local control through institutional boards of trustees, effective July 1, 2014. The Bill also provided a process so that the four smaller schools could also request to transition to their own institutional board, although their request would require approval from the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.

What does an institutional Board of Trustees do?
Although there are limitations on a board’s authority, it is empowered to provide governance over (rather than management of) an institution, including the ability to hire/fire the institution’s president, endorse creation of new academic programs, approve tuition increases up to 5 percent, issue revenue bonds, or approve budget requests before they are submitted to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC).

Are there other alternatives to an institutional Board of Trustees?
Not for the three largest Oregon institutions; those boards take effect on July 1, 2014. However, presidents at the regional and technical universities in Oregon (WOU, EOU, SOU, and OIT) were given several governance options to consider by the University Governance Work Group, a committee formed by the SBHE. These options included: 1) consortium or multi-campus system, in which the smaller universities shared one board of trustees, 2) affiliation model, in which one or more of the smaller universities might be affiliated (either as a partner or branch campus) with one of the three larger schools (OSU, PSU, UO) and governed by that school’s board of trustees, or 3) a board of trustees specifically for that university.

What is the value of an institutional board over the other options?
This approach seems most likely to preserve and enhance the personalized education and close faculty-student collaboration that helps students succeed at WOU.

What’s the timeline going forward?
March 1, 2014 – WOU will submit its request for its own Board of Trustees to the SBHE.

Approx. April 15 – The SBHE must make a decision within 45 days of receiving WOU’s request. If it agrees, the Board must immediately communicate its endorsement of the request to the Governor.

Approx. Sept 30 – All members of WOU’s governing board will be appointed within six months after WOU’s request goes to the SBHE.

July 1, 2015 – The institutional governing board will take over governance of WOU from the SBHE.

3 thoughts on “WOU pursues institutional governing board of trustees to better serve Oregon students

  1. Pingback: What’s in a number (or, trying to understand the minds of university administrators) | A Weird Fish

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