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Oregon State University President Ed Ray speaks frankly on all things higher ed while in town for his annual State of The University address at the Oregon Convention Center.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Oregon State University President Ed RayCorvallis-based Oregon State University continues to expand — this time into a new headquarters for its Portland base of operations.

This, said OSU President Ed Ray in a meeting Thursday, Feb. 1, with the Pamplin Media Group, will allow the university to tap into pent up local demand for its online courses and other opportunities.

Oregon State's lease of a portion of the former Meier & Frank building, facing Pioneer Courthouse Square, means that existing programs will be able to centralize and new ones added using a "hub and spoke" strategy.

Ray said dipping a toe of the university's $2.71 billion economic footprint in Portland — which includes the benefits of adding skills to the workforce — will be good for the region.

"Just our presence in a very basic economic sense is pretty substantial for Portland," Ray said. The city has eight major institutes of higher education, including Portland Community College, Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University. Ray said the expansion is not intended to be competitive with those organizations, who are also constantly pushing for expansion.

"We're still not satisfying the demands" for higher education in Portland, Ray said. In the fall, the university plans to announce Portland-based academic programs in business, human development and family sciences — and one Ray seems particularly excited about: cybersecurity.

"Thanks to the Russians, and others, the whole world is aware of the need for cybersecurity," he said.

The president and an OSU spokesman met with news organization staff before Ray's annual State of the University speech at the Oregon Convention Center. The address sounded familiar themes of a thriving university overcoming the challenges of dwindling state funding and persistent racial achievement gaps.

The latter has been met with the Oregon Student Success initiative, which has so far raised $79 million of its $150 million goal announced last year. That, says Ray, has allowed the university to double the amount of financial aide available to students.

But he said a lot more needed to be done to help students from low-income households earn a college degree.

"That gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' has literally almost doubled in the last 50 years," Ray said. "That's very damning evidence that in fact higher education has contributed to income inequality in America."

'The cavalry's not coming'

Ray was less combative than in earlier statements regarding state funding, sympathizing with legislators on the funding challenges left by the Public Employees Retirement System obligations.

"I don't know when we (Oregon) will be able to crawl out from under that," Ray said. "We (the university) just have to keep going. The cavalry's not coming."

Ray said despite OSU continuing to win more government grants and contracts, the future on the federal funding front is also murky.

"I think everybody's aware that Washington (D.C.)'s a little crazy and we don't know what's going to happen," he said, noting rumors that environmental and other science research may be cut. OSU recently won the largest grant in its history, $122 million, for a regional oceangoing research vessel project. "Our people — whatever the size of the pie is — are doing very well."

Continuum of education

Ray praised Portland Public Schools board chair Julia Brim Edwards — who also sits on OSU's board of trustees — for being an "incredible asset" for recognizing the continuum of education from pre-K to higher ed.

"People here still complain about issues in K-12, but we all own it," Ray said, noting that 73 percent of OSU undergraduates are Oregonians. "We need to be working with K-12 so that all of us are as successful as possible."

But he also said the five-year-old system in Oregon of university boards of trustees and a weaker state government coordinating body means that no one is yet speaking with one voice on the higher educational needs of all Oregonians.

"We're competing nationally. We're competing internationally," Ray said. "We, collectively, need to get our act together."

The university, founded in 1868, celebrates its sesquicentennial this year with an exhibit of its 150-year history opening Feb. 10 at the Oregon Historical Museum. A symposium in the fall will also provide an opportunity to look ahead to the future of the university.

Listen to clips from the interview:




Shasta Kearns Moore
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