Pacific Union College Plans for the Future

By Amy Bauer-Heald on December 18, 2007

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he Board of Trustees at Pacific Union College met Thursday to discuss the school’s budget and outline future goals for ensuring the long-term success of the institution. In the past few months, PUC has experienced challenges common to most colleges in America: including rising energy and health care costs and reduced investment income due to the economy. The final board report was presented at a special College Assembly meeting for faculty and staff on Thursday afternoon.

Outlining benchmarks for excellence based on averages at similar-sized colleges was a major goal of the meeting. “In a number of areas,” said president Richard Osborn, “PUC has been spending more generously than these benchmarks indicate a college such as ours should to maintain long term strength. While not reducing the excellence of the college, we are attempting to bring our costs into better alignment so that we can aggressively implement strategic goals of even greater excellence.”

Academically, PUC continues to hold its own on a national level. For the eighth year in a row, the college has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top ten western comprehensive colleges—a regional ranking that measures PUC against institutions in 14 other states. In their evaluation of the college, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) described PUC’s most recent self study as “exemplary... characterized by critical analysis and reflection, supported by evidence, and developed with broad-based participation.” The college was commended for progress made on previous issues including “the addition of extensive computer resources throughout the campus, the increase in the quality and extent of physical space, and the dramatic improvement of the institution’s financial stability.” Impressed by PUC’s program, WASC waived their usual mid-point review of the school.

One of the goals of Thursday’s full board meeting was to approve a balanced budget based on an enrollment of 1,290 EFTEs (economic full-time equivalent students). The board did not vote on any specific personnel recommendations. Encouraged by the knowledge that changes will make the school even stronger, the president reported that he is “very optimistic about the future. The actions taken by the PUC Board are designed to help us maintain our mission as one of the best Christian liberal arts colleges in the nation.”

The most dramatic change in colleges over the past decade is the practice of using large amounts of scholarships and grants to attract students with tuition discounts. PUC has experienced particular competition in this area from other Adventist and private institutions. The proposed budget includes a substantial increase in scholarships and grants to ensure that PUC remains a popular choice for future students.

Using current facilities more efficiently is one way that PUC plans to balance the budget for long-term financial viability. An increase in faculty-to student and staff-to-student ratios, facilitated mainly through retirement and cautious re-hiring, is another way the school seeks to gain greater financial security. The school now employs a greater number of faculty than similar-sized institutions. The current faculty-to-student ratio at PUC is 11:1 while the median for colleges of similar size indicate ratios from 15:1 to 19:1. Based on these figures, the Board established a goal of 15:1 for PUC’s faculty-to-student ratio by the 2003-04 school year.

PUC also plans to combine traditional methods of balancing the budget with creative projects for which the school is uniquely equipped. A proposed cogeneration power plant on the PUC campus will make the college self-sufficient in energy and provide additional power that the school can sell to meet energy demands of other Adventist institutions. This solution to rising energy costs in California comes with conservative estimates that predict future annual earnings in excess of $500,000.

According to the president, the mission of Pacific Union College remains unchanged. “The key focus,” Osborn says, “is to enable students to continue having the benefit of outstanding professors, strong student services, good residence halls and food services, generous financial aid, beautiful nature, and most importantly, an opportunity to grow in their faith on a Christ-centered campus."