The University of Oregon announced Tuesday the creation of an institute for children’s health set to be housed at the former Concordia University campus in Northeast Portland.
Funding for the Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health will come from a more than $425 million donation from Steve and Connie Ballmer, co-founders of Ballmer Group Philanthropy. Steve Ballmer is a former CEO of Microsoft.
“A bold effort is needed to address the behavioral and mental health needs of our youth,” UO President Michael Schill said in a statement. “This gift is monumental. It enables UO researchers and experts to build on a collective vision to develop innovative and scalable programs, and to address the need for a sustainable workforce that can work directly with our children.”
The Ballmers said in a recorded statement released Tuesday that they want to support efforts that help families and their kids.
“The one constant issue facing children and families around our country was poor behavioral health, and that was before COVID, which then inflamed this crisis like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Connie Ballmer, a UO alumna and former trustee. “The most immediate need is around the topic of workforce. How do we recruit, educate and certify more people to help address the crisis? Thankfully, [UO] had a great plan.”
According to UO, the university’s board of trustees is expected “in the coming days” to review a purchase agreement for the former Concordia University campus.
The former private university announced its closure in early 2020. It’s currently embroiled in a more than $300 million lawsuit filed against it by HotChalk — a technology company that was responsible for managing Concordia’s online programming.
The old Concordia buildings are located next to the Faubion PK-8 School, which had worked closely with Concordia’s teaching program.
The institute plans to partner with K-12 schools statewide, starting with Portland Public Schools.
“The global pandemic has only amplified the mental and behavioral health needs of students here in Portland and across the country,” Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to find innovative ways to support the holistic needs of our students and are excited for our groundbreaking partnership with the Ballmer Institute.”
UO says the new institute will bring together university research programs, public schools and community groups to create and deliver “intervention and treatment programs” for K-12 students.
Along with the institute, UO is creating new undergraduate degree and certificate programs focused on children’s behavioral health care. The new degree program will be subject to state approval, but the institute itself has already received endorsement from Gov. Kate Brown.
“Oregon must take action to address the behavioral and mental health crisis that we are facing in communities across the entire state,” Brown said in a statement. “I am so pleased the Legislature has made a significant investment in resources, support and services. However, we need a workforce. And that’s where the Ballmer Institute steps up.”
From that more than $425 million donation, $100 million will go toward an endowment for scholarships.
The university said it has early goals for the Ballmer Institute to graduate at least 200 behavioral health practitioners annually through the proposed bachelor’s degree program. UO says it will also offer a certificate program for mid-career students “to prepare and empower as many graduates as possible.”
The Ballmer Institute will increase UO’s presence in Portland, joining existing off-shoots from the main Eugene campus like the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Turnbull Center in downtown Portland.
In a statement Tuesday, Portland State University President Stephen Percy said the Ballmer Institute is a welcome addition to the metro area.
“We welcome the University of Oregon as a partner that can complement the work that Portland State has been doing to meet the behavioral health needs across our increasingly diverse region,” Percy said.
Percy said PSU has been training mental health professionals through its urban campus and its School of Public Health with Oregon Health & Science University. He said PSU is looking forward to working with UO, “as we continue our efforts to solve the state’s most pressing challenges through education and research.”
UO said Tuesday that initial plans for the institute also include more than 20 new faculty members. Administrators say the institute is the first of its kind and will be a national model for other schools.