State of the University focuses on challenges, changemakers

On Nov. 30, Oakland University held the annual State of the University Address led by President Ora Pescovitz. The address called attention to challenges OU has encountered and some solutions created, as well as highlighting changemakers in the OU community.

The address started with a performance by the Oakland Chorale, led by professor Michael Mitchell. Dominique Daniel, the coordinator of archives and special collections, then took the stage to talk about the history of OU and discuss the growth of the university.

A video played featured some changemakers on campus, such as Brian Bierley, director of media relations, Jessie Hurse, associate dean of students and deputy title IX coordinator and De Witt S. Dykes Jr., associate professor in the department of history.

“I’m a changemaker because I believe in empowering our students to reach their overall success and getting to the point where they feel like they are accomplished,” Hurse said in the video. “I’m a changemaker because it was just naturally given to me to go out and serve individuals and serve people.”

Pescovitz started her address by remembering the Oxford High School shooting from a year ago and honoring those who have been affected. The majority of the address focused on identifying challenges the university faces, then addressing solutions already in place or those to come. 

Some of the challenges and topics discussed were: budget shortfall, enrollment, funding records, brain drain, plans for West Campus, OU-Pontiac initiative and research support.

Enrollment and retention

Enrollment in the fiscal year (FY) 2023 is down 7.2% through fall, with an overall change of -18.4% in enrollment from 2012. The past five years have seen some of the biggest decline, with the total headcount at 16,108 — down from 19,333 in 2017.

Pescovitz stated three reasons for the enrollment decline: a decreasing number of high school graduates, COVID-19 and a growing anti-college sentiment. Despite this, OU is now the sixth largest public university in Michigan, rising from eighth in 2012.

One of the actions in response to this is the Strategic Enrollment Management plan which is already in progress and has a plan through Fall 2025 to increase enrollment. New freshman, transfer and undergraduate/adult learner goals are on track while new graduate student enrollment is not.

Budget shortfall

This year, 74% of OU’s revenue came from tuition, with 24% coming from state appropriations and the final 2% coming from other sources. To coincide with this, 83% of expenditures went to compensation (salaries) and 17% went to supplies, services and other costs.

Pescovitz stated the lower tuition revenue has created a $24 million budget shortfall for FY2023, but provided ways of addressing it.

“We’re using a combination of tactics, including federal HEERF reserve funds,” Pescovitz said. “We’re applying our state appropriation dollars and we are enacting strategic expenditure reductions.”

Reimagining OU

Pescovitz then talked about Reimaging OU, an initiative which looks for ways to improve administration and culture and to create proposals to propel OU. Part of this is the Baldrige process.

“In August, we embarked on the Baldrige process,” Pescovitz said. “The Baldrige Performance Excellence process is a framework to facilitate continuous improvement throughout the university, including in the areas of leadership, strategy, workforce and operations.”

Pescovitz said Reimaging OU has allowed for improvements to administrative efficiency and helped develop a road map for sustainability initiatives, among other things. Baldrige will build on this and aim to foster an improvement mindset.

Funding success

The “Strive for 45” campaign allowed OU to receive the highest percentage increase in funding of all Michigan public universities, with a 12.5% increase compared to the average 3%. 

“Our campaign is not only about seeking more funding, it’s also about equity among the other 15 public universities and standing up for the values of higher education and defending our belief in that higher education is at the heart of a democratic society, equal opportunity and progress,” Pescovitz said.

OU has a $30 million science complex capital outlay project which is before the state legislature, and if passed, receiving state funding, OU will be required to bond an additional $10 million to assist the project.

Aligning programs

Pescovitz emphasized her desire for OU to be a workforce university of choice — becoming a place where students go for affordable real world experiences, where the education translates into a good paying job and a broad range of opportunities. 

She discussed the brain drain — a trend where Michigan university graduates are leaving Michigan for jobs — noting that OU leads all universities with 86.3% of graduates staying in Michigan. To address workforce shortages, specifically in health care, an initiative called THE BEST was created.

“THE BEST stands for Transforming Healthcare Education by Elevating State-of-the-art Teaching, learning and practice,” Pescovitz said. “I want you to think of THE BEST as a proposal. THE BEST is based on the goal of elevating Oakland as a catalyst in addressing the healthcare needs of people in southeast Michigan and beyond.”

To assist with THE BEST, OU plans to establish West Campus (OWC) as an interprofessional education center which will provide classroom space, a training center and a clinic.

Building alliances & enhancing relationships

OU will receive a $21 million gift from Corewell Health (formerly Beaumont Health Spectrum Health) as a part of their partnership aimed at improving health care. With this gift, OU has a new annual fundraising record of $30 million.

In addition to the annual record, OU is 95% of the way to their $150 million aspire, advance, achieve campaign goal, sitting at $143 million. They also have a 200% increase in research funding from FY2020 to FY2022.

To enhance relationships, Pescovitz discussed the OU-Pontiac initiative and the effects it has had on OU and Pontiac.

“The OU-Pontiac initiative continues to have an extremely positive impact on the city’s education, healthcare, culture, economic development and civic engagement,” she said. “Our faculty, students and staff are working now alongside more than 75 civic, business and nonprofit groups. We are committed to the Pontiac community in what is truly a mutually beneficial partnership.”

Pescovitz ended the address by promoting upcoming events like Keeper of the Dream, and asking everyone to become changemakers who will make OU a great university.