As we enter the holiday season, it’s not too early to think about New Year’s resolutions. And there is one key resolution which all members of PSU leadership must commit to: a new direction.
We know what the challenges are.
- An unexpected enrollment drop in the Fall 2022 term.
- An employee turnover rate that is far too high, especially (but not only) among Academic Professionals.
- High levels of stress and burnout among all members of the campus community.
These are facts which, we believe, no one would dispute.
What we need to stop debating are the underlying causes for these challenges. Those are plain for everyone to see.
The University’s own outside, third-party analyst called out the primary underlying causes some 6 months ago: administrative bloat, poor communication between upper administrative offices, and general managerial fragmentation which causes inefficiencies and errors.
The Problem is Administrative Bloat, Not Academic Programs
This University’s leadership has allowed upper administrative structures and costs to balloon, while cutting needed investments and ongoing support of academic programs, enrollment management functions, and various student services (Huron report, p. 16).
To this point, we would highlight the fact that core functions such as Financial Aid and Admissions are understaffed and underfunded. There’s a direct line between that fact and the “mystery” of the Fall 2022 drop in incoming new students. Administrators in Enrollment Management have not had the correct priorities or taken steps to allow us to boost enrollment, as many other universities have in response to pandemic pressures.
Is it really a mystery that we had an enrollment drop this Fall when, in the key months of August and September, Financial Aid was so understaffed that they had to cut back on office hours? When it took many weeks for students to get appointments? When many incoming students began to receive tuition bills before they even had a chance to speak to a Financial Aid counselor?
And why are Career and Academic Advisors being asked to train up in Financial Aid advising, when their own workloads are so high that the current wait-time to see an academic advisor runs around 3 weeks?
The Huron report also calls out the unusually high number of supervisory positions throughout the University and an unusually large number of Vice-Presidential offices as compared to peer institutions:
"Industry best practices typically reflect an average (institution-wide) span of control between 5.0 and 7.0 direct reports per supervisor…. While the PSU-wide average span of control is 5.2 direct reports per supervisor, more than one-third (37%) of supervisors manage only 1 or 2 direct reports; 61% of supervisors have 4 or fewer [emphasis added]. Recognizing that some direct reports were excluded from this analysis (e.g., student employees), these sub-optimal spans of control may signal a need to reevaluate the number of supervisory positions with narrow spans (pp. 19-20)."
This fragmented structure has also led to a lack of communication and coordination in key areas such as enrollment management and student affairs (pp. 24-25).
These issues long pre-date the start of the pandemic.
Contrary to recent publicity put out by PSU Administration, enrollment issues cannot be blamed on OSU or OU encroaching on our turf, so to speak. These are self-inflicted wounds which go to internal administrative dysfunction.
We Must Invest in PSU’s Future - and The Money Is Available
The good news is: internal problems can be fixed with internal actions.
To repair the issues of enrollment, employee turnover, and campus-wide stress and burnout, we must INVEST.
The idea that we can “cut” our way out of the current situation is grounded in the concept of austerity politics: the idea that everyone must “tighten their belts,” that through cutting budget, cutting programs, cutting spending, an economy will return to health.
Austerity politics has been shown over and over again to be a failure. The Office of Finance & Administration must turn away from the delusion of austerity politics. Continued adherence to its tenets is ideological rather than common-sensical.
Investment in what makes us great is the way forward. And there is money available to invest.
Even leaving aside the money that can and must be saved through trimming PSU’s overgrown administrative structures, an expert analysis of PSU’s budgets showed that there is money that can be diverted now to address the challenges before us. (For the extended analysis, click here.)
Mission First in 2023
The critiques of the Huron report must be acted on. We can begin acting on them immediately by designing plans to reduce administrative structures; and, by immediately tapping into available funds that are currently being hoarded.
We can create a healthy, stable workforce at PSU by investing in a significant expansion of positions in key areas such as Human Resources, Financial Aid, the CARE Team, and Academic and Career Advising.
We can recover from the pandemic impact by investing in academic programs and faculty lines. (Not by cutting them, which only drives away more students.)
There is money available now to start this process. It cannot wait.
Let’s make 2023 the year we turn PSU toward a bright future.
In 2023, let’s make PSU a great place for faculty, staff, and APs to work. A great place for students from all backgrounds to learn and live and grow. And a continued source of strength and development for Portland, Multnomah County, and all of Oregon.