Bailey seeks to ‘diversify revenue’ as school faces challenges increasing enrollment, funding
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Southern Oregon University’s new president, Richard “Rick” J. Bailey Jr., is officially at the helm at the Ashland campus and excited to apply his entrepreneurial mindset as he learns more about the university and its priorities, he said at a virtual news conference Tuesday.
Saturday was Bailey’s first official day after coming from northern New Mexico, but Tuesday was his first full day on campus. Over Zoom, he shared plans to bring a strategic listening ear and work to diversify revenue streams for the liberal arts university, and raised the possibility of requiring booster vaccines for students and staff this year.
Bailey comes to the university after navigating five years as president of Northern New Mexico College in Espanola, New Mexico, where he oversaw a 20% increase in enrollment, more than 50% reduction in student default rates and graduation rates more than double.
Bailey comes to SOU with wide experience in leadership, both in higher education and the U.S. military. He served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as Colonel and Command Pilot, and served as NATO’s chief of operations officer at Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands, overseeing air operations for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Hopes to lessen reliance on state funding
“My goal here … is for us to be entrepreneurial,” Bailey told reporters, “and to start thinking about how we bring resources into this institution differently. It’s a lofty goal, but the more we do that, the less dependent we will be on state funding.
“It also helps to alleviate the burden on tuition and tuition increases and relying on that,” he added.
“The more we can be entrepreneurial with how we diversify our revenue, I think the more successful we will be in terms of creating long-term fiscal stability, and that’s something I’m excited about exploring.”
Although his long-term plans for SOU aren’t set in stone, Bailey shed light on his vision for a robust entrepreneurial approach moving forward, including the concept of creating ongoing sources of revenue apart from the Oregon Legislature where the university can both leverage its expertise and create public-private partnerships that help better connect the university with the communities surrounding it.
“I think all of us should be doing that, I think that’s where the higher education landscape is headed,” Bailey said. “And I think institutions who are more entrepreneurial and more risk-tolerant … are going to be more successful. It doesn’t mean that we should reckless, we need to take calculated risks moving forward, but I think the more willing we are to do that and to reach into enterprises that typical higher ed institutions haven’t done before, I think that’s going to set us up for success. And we have to be willing sometimes for those things to fail, just like all businesses, we have to be willing to take some calculated risks knowing that they are risks.”
February trip to Salem
Bailey emphasized he’ll be trying to prioritize his time between Ashland and Salem, where he’ll be in February for the Oregon Legislative session — learning the nuances of the state’s higher education funding model. He also wants to be accessible to staff, students and the possibility of public-private partnerships outside the campus in the Rogue Valley.
While in Salem, he’ll also be learning about what’s possible for the institution in terms of how entrepreneurial its president and Board of Trustees can be.
Bailey said while at Northern New Mexico College, he worked with legislators to craft a senate bill that allowed a clearer pathway for higher ed education institutions to be more entrepreneurial.
“We may not need to do that at all here at SOU, I just want to learn more about … how the state law relates to the university and whether or not there are initiatives that would require some tweaks,” he said. “I want to be at the forefront of that.”
He’s not interested in competing for students with other universities across the state, but rather in identifying marginalized groups within the region and identifying where the university could gain more students and see enrollment gains. He wants to attract students to the university who may not have considered it as an option, such as those in the middle of their careers, looking for a change.
Seeking out ‘marginalized groups’
“This is going to be our challenge: Are there previously either marginalized groups or just people who (have) never kind of been on the higher ed radar that we have not reached out to before, and are there opportunities to bring people into the higher ed space who have traditionally not been apart of that space?” he asked. “We could be missing an incredibly large group of other people, who maybe aren’t considered prospective university students, but could be.”
Bailey also wants to get to know the local community and those who call the Ashland campus home. He attended the city of Ashland’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. event in the downtown Plaza on Monday, and has dinner plans this week at The Hawk dining commons in North Campus Village.
He said he’ll work very diligently to strengthen the ties between the university and the surrounding community, including Medford and cities throughout the Rogue Valley.
“I think that universities are strongest when they are nimble,” he said. “When we can be nimble enough that when employers in the region say, ‘Hey, these are the skill sets we’re looking for for these things, and we can provide pathways for that, in concert with RCC (Rogue Community College) and other institutions, then I think we can be incredibly successful.
“It also means that our students who love the area, once they graduate, can stay in the area and have a productive career and really contribute to the valley.”
Working with Ashland businesses
Bailey said there are always ways to connect SOU more to the city of Ashland and its businesses.
He’s already been talking to Chamber of Commerce Director Sandra Slattery about the possibilities.
“We started already talking about how we can work on that together,” he said. “A successful Chamber of Commerce means a successful SOU and vice-versa.”
Out of 130 open senior leadership positions in higher education, Bailey said he only applied to SOU.
“I wasn’t really pushing to leave New Mexico but I think Southern Oregon University … I think it really is in an incredible position looking forward because it is a large enough institution that it has all of these opportunities for students and by the way, not just in terms of curriculum, but in terms of all the things that happen outside the classroom, too.”
Long-term, he said he’s dedicated to “walking the walk” of making the university an attractive atmosphere for the student body and university employees.
He emphasized SOU as a university with a small enough population to “ have a hometown feel” and get to know its students, unlike some where students “can get lost in the shuffle,” he said.
He was also quick to emphasize Southern Oregon as “one of the most beautiful places on the planet.”
“I know we have a lot of challenges ahead, but we also have some great opportunities and I’m really, really excited for where we’re headed as a university,” Bailey said.
Along with an entrepreneurial spirit and an affinity for songwriting, he’s bringing 11 chickens from New Mexico — most of them are named for movie stars, including Ann-Margret Olsson — to the president’s house, a residence near the university set aside for its president, where he and his wife, Diana, will reside.
“Those are the most well-treated chickens in the world, they eat better than I do,” he joked. “We are now working on transporting the chickens.”