During a speech to a room filled with Oregon State University alumni, staff and students from around Central Oregon, President Ed Ray suggested Monday evening that Bend had become almost a second home to him.

“I say this in very few places other than Corvallis, … but it really is a joy to come here,” Ray said. “There’s a sense of coming home, there’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of being among friends that I don’t sense in many places.”

Ray, 74, who has been OSU’s president since 2003, not only touted his university’s successes in Corvallis and Bend during his “State of the University” speech, but also strongly pushed for more state funding for higher education.

“Without additional state support, Oregon’s universities will be forced to shunt even more costs onto the shoulders of students, and cut staffing and programs,” he said.

Ray told the crowd that student tuition covers more than 65% of the cost of operating OSU’s main Corvallis campus, while the state only provides 22% — less than half of what it contributed 15 years ago.

In Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget, she set aside $225 million for higher education capital projects in 2020, although she also said there could be up to $100 million in extra bonds on top of that.

Ray also mentioned OSU-Cascades’ proposed Student Success Center building, saying that he believed local support would convince legislators to fund it. The university is looking for $12 million in state funding for the building, which is low on the state Legislature’s priority list of statewide university projects.

After the speech, Ray told The Bulletin that he thinks it’s likely the Student Success Center won’t be funded until next year’s legislative session, and that the university needed to “muster all of our forces” to convince lawmakers to support the project.

“I’m not going to be satisfied until I know it’s been approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Legislature,” he said.

According to the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Ray will step down from his position on June 30, 2020, ending a tenure that will span close to 17 years.

During his presidency, Ray oversaw the construction and completion of OSU-Cascades’ campus on Chandler Avenue in 2016 — the first stand-alone branch campus of an Oregon public university and the first new university in Oregon in more than 50 years.

Ray brought the audience back to a few years ago, when OSU-Cascades didn’t have a permanent campus.

“We had OSU-Cascades in the COCC building. We didn’t have a campus site, no money to put up buildings. We didn’t have approval to start or finish four-year programs,” he said. “When you think about where we are, it’s really remarkable.”

Ray said after his speech that he felt the role of OSU-Cascades was to provide a four-year university to a previously underserved area that’s rapidly growing in population.

“I think strategically, for Oregon, this region — Bend and Central Oregon — is going to be the fastest-growing, most important, vibrant economic phenomenon in the state,” he said. “And it needs quality four-year and advanced-graduate education here, where people can take advantage of it.”

Ray added that the most vigorous and fast-growing economies are in regions with a major university affiliation.

Ray spent much of his speech touting OSU’s recent accomplishments, including many specific to its Bend campus. Ray mentioned that OSU-Cascades’ enrollment grew by 4.6 % in the past year and praised the university’s partnership with Central Oregon Community College that allows students to jointly enroll in both schools.

Ray also praised assistant professor Bahman Abbasi for recently receiving OSU-Cascades’ two largest-ever research awards: $2 million to create a solar-powered process to provide clean water and $2.97 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop technology to mitigate the environmental impact of wastewater caused by fracking.

“(These awards) not only will make a real difference in the world, but they will also inspire our students to engage in other forms of transformational research,” he said.

Ray gave a shout-out to the OSU-Cascades Innovation Co-Lab, where students work with local startups, companies and nonprofits. He said the program has helped 18 local startups create more than 30 jobs and raise more than $1.5 million.

Ray said after the speech that he expected the Bend campus’ population to grow even faster in the coming years, as the university’s reputation grows.

“I’m pretty bullish on the Cascades campus,” he said.

Ray ended his speech with a call to action for OSU’s staff and alumni to talk to their local legislators to fight inequity in higher education.

“I guarantee you that working together, relentlessly, the best is yet to come,” Ray said, to a hearty round of applause.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com