In the days since the surprising announcement that Concordia University in Portland will close at the end of their academic year, I have been asked two questions repeatedly. First, is there anything Willamette can do to help the 5,000 displaced students finish their degrees? And second, is there any chance something like that could happen to Willamette?? My answers to those questions, in order, are, "Absolutely!" and "Absolutely not!"
The closure of Oregon's largest private university is a shock and a disruption for thousands of students. Nearly every university in the state, including Willamette, is working to help find transfer pathways that will minimize the difficulty and cost for those students to complete their degrees. A majority of Concordia's students are pursuing studies in areas Willamette does not provide, such as elementary education, social work, and homeland security, but for undergraduate students in subjects like biology or psychology, or for graduate students in management or law, Willamette might be a great option.
The closure comes amid intense media scrutiny on higher education, especially after the closure last year of Marylhurst University and the Oregon College of Arts and Craft. Even large public university systems, like the one in Alaska, have been discussing potential consolidations or campus closures. It is natural to worry about what demographic and economic "disruption" might mean for other colleges and universities, including Willamette.
But I want there to be no confusion: Willamette is on solid financial footing.
Willamette and Concordia are very different institutions. Concordia never developed a significant endowment, while Willamette's $270M endowment - the product of generations of generous gifts from alumni and others - makes us one of the wealthiest universities in the state, able to provide significant scholarship support hundreds of students. Willamette also has one of the best bond ratings in the state with less institutional debt than many of our peers and the level of deferred maintenance on our buildings is within recommended norms. We have been prudently managed for many decades, and our financial fundamentals are strong.
Willamette is a financially-healthy institution and budget realignments like the ones we have been doing do not signal an existential threat. The biggest threat to Willamette, and to our peers like Whitman and Lewis & Clark, is that we will lose focus on the fiscal discipline that has allowed us all to thrive for over a century. The decisions we are making now are to ensure we do not lose our ability to advance our worthy mission and to educate future generations of Bearcats who will, for decades and centuries to come, carry the Willamette ideal of service into the never-ending work of building a more just world.