PSU holds town hall to discuss budget strategies

Leaders at Portland State University hosted an online forum Monday for faculty, staff and students to listen in on an overview of the budget and ask questions about how it will be balanced. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has added significant volatility to the budget picture, and declining enrollment will lead to budget challenges for Portland State. More than 1,000 participants logged on to hear details. 

President Stephen Percy urged participants to approach the budget conversation with PSU’s values in mind. “These core values were established on the streets of Vanport, they adapted over time and endure today,” Percy said. 

He highlighted that budget decisions will be guided by PSU’s core values including commitments to racial equity and student learning; a focus on ensuring students graduate with improved social and economic mobility; preserving PSU’s legacy of community engagement with Portland, the state and the world; and an unmatched spirit of innovation.

PSU has been experiencing an enrollment decline since 2010 which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Current year enrollment is down over 7% and is currently forecast to decline by an additional 5-7% next year. This enrollment decline is expected to continue in the coming years, prompting the need for a long-term look at the budget. The town hall addressed both the near term plan for the next fiscal year budget as well as discussion of a more comprehensive overhaul to move the university toward firmer financial footing. 

In the coming year (the 2022 fiscal year), President Percy anticipates bringing forward to the Board of Trustees a budget that is reduced from current years by approximately 1.5%, and that depends upon use of reserves. The university anticipates using its reserve funds to create a phased year-over-year budget reduction to align expenditures with the enrollment change.  

PSU has also benefited from federal relief in the past year with $17.4 million in CARES Act funding arriving last May and another $30.7 million arriving soon. These one-time funds can be used to support PSU students, offsetting some of the increased costs and lost revenue associated with the pandemic. 

As part of the discussion of long-term budget planning, President Percy called on colleagues to not only look for areas to cut spending, but to seek out revenue-generating opportunities such as investing in high-demand programs and expanding popular professional and executive education courses. 

“There is work for everyone on this,” Percy said. “These are collaborative ideas we can work on together.” 
The Office of Academic Affairs will host additional town hall meetings on March 9 and 11 that will address the budget in more detail. OAA has also formed a working group that will set criteria for a program review that will inform possible program reductions. 

A recording of the town hall, the slide deck that was presented and questions and answers about the budget will be posted online at pdx.edu/budget.