Today, PSU Budget Pessimism Part 3

March 09, 2020 / PSU-AAUP

Today, Tuesday, March 10, from 4-6 pm, in Smith 238, is the third and last forum planned by PSU Administration to communicate its budget pessimism.

PSU Administration made presentations at the last two forums which manufactured a false sense of crisis that rests primarily on playing fast and loose with “data” to create a fictional long-term enrollment forecast.

Why should you care? Why have PSU-AAUP,  faculty, academic professionals, staff, and graduate students raised serious questions? For two main reasons: 

First, these numbers are going to affect contract negotiations and we want the numbers to accurately reflect the situation at PSU. 

Second, we have good reason to question their pessimistic budget projections. When we compare their budget projections to end-of-year actuals for the past five years, we find a pattern: the use of budget forecasts to create unwarranted pessimism. PSU “budget pessimism” has, in turn, been continually used to make budget cuts that were not necessary, judging from the end-of-year actual surpluses. 

We are asking for:

  1. Transparency in the budget projections
  2. Shared governance in setting budget priorities 
  3. An understanding that continuous cuts affect student success 

We urge you to attend, 4-6 pm in Smith 238, and contribute to a vigorous, necessary and critical, faculty and academic professional engagement.

In preparation for that engagement, we want to recap where we are at after two previous PSU management forums.


Forum #1, February 6 — Fiasco

The first forum took place on February 6. As we reported earlier, that forum was an affront to faculty and academic professionals; staged as a show-and-tell with a parody of faculty and staff engagement. Faculty, academic professionals, staff, and graduate students turned it around, resolutely demanding evidence for cavalier PSU Administration assertions of a budget crisis stretching for years into the future. Their prepared PowerPoints were curated to communicate a crisis message, but when pressed, administration was unable to show anything that remotely looks like data, methods, and assumptions that can be peer-reviewed and vetted. The first forum ended with two big questions for the administration:

  • What are your data, methods, and assumptions?

  • Why is your enrollment crystal ball completely at odds with the best data on long term enrollment trends, and why are you either not aware of this data, or ignoring it?

We were given two tokens of reassurance by the end of the first forum: Interim President Percy promised he would have “white paper” with detailed answers to all enrollment questions by forum #2. Provost Susan Jeffords indicated she trusts the competency of their research team, and referenced an award winning book they had been reading.

Forum #2, February 26 — More Courtesy, Still No Answers to the Key Questions

At this forum, we witnessed essentially the same presentation and the previously promised  white paper did not materialize.

          PSU Administration showed a projection of state appropriations for higher education continuing an upward trend. But at the forum they continued spinning stories of crisis. How do they do it? Essentially, by presenting enrollment forecasts (and therefore, tuition revenue forecasts) that, from the vantage point of the best available research on demographic trends, are at best misleading. We questioned their data, assumptions, and methods, as in the previous forum. Again, no acceptable answers to satisfy shared-governance stakeholders who take our place at the university seriously.

Here is a list of additional questions that we raised and left with PSU Administration. 

  • What are your enrollment goals for the next five years? Exactly how do you predict enrollment over the next five years? In light of all the demographic forecasts favoring college enrollment in the Portland area, why are you so pessimistic about your ability to successfully enroll those students? 

  • Why did the PSU Foundation, whose mission it is to raise funds, receive a subsidy of 7.5 million dollars last year? Why does the amount of money going to the foundation increase by almost half a million a year? Who decides how much money they get and will this amount go down next year? Why are they getting a subsidy at all?

  • What are administrative salaries, and how much have they risen over the last five years? 


Given that retention/graduation rates factor into state funding allocations, how good is our retention of true freshmen and how does this factor into our budget situation? Can we realistically increase retention rates while continuing to cut at the department/college level?

It would be naive to look at any of the data points -- tuition, revenue, enrollments, course offerings, etc. -- in isolation. How do you model the interactions between these data? For example, how does increasing tuition affect enrollment? How do across the board departmental budget cuts impact summer course offerings thereby lowering, tuition revenue? How do hiring freezes alter departments’ ability to offer classes that bring in tuition dollars or staff the advising offices that serve as a key touchpoint for student success? How are such interactions taken into account when making decisions on where to cut and where to invest?

When we look at “full time equivalent” numbers, we see that enrollment is down since a 2010 peak. Is enrollment down in simple numbers of students? Or are more students enrolling only part time? How do the rising costs of tuition and housing impact our FTE numbers, and, in turn, our net revenue?

          We are waiting with baited breath for answers to these questions, and for Interim President Percy’s “white paper.”

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