CORVALLIS - The largest class of new freshmen in a decade is expected to boost student enrollment at Oregon State University more than 5 percent this fall to an estimated 14,800 students - the university's highest enrollment since 1991. Last fall, OSU had a student enrollment of 14,127 students.
OSU officials say about 2,250 new freshmen will enroll this fall, an increase of about 13 percent over last year.
"The students are voting with their feet," said Andy Hashimoto, associate provost for academic affairs. "They are pleased with what OSU has to offer and, just as importantly, they are choosing to stay once they get here. Our retention efforts, as well as our recruitment efforts, are paying off."
Hashimoto said a number of factors are behind the university's increasing enrollment, including an increased emphasis on student recruitment, additional private gifts for scholarships, a commitment to marketing, and new programs that have helped to increase retention.
Bob Bontrager, director of admissions and orientation at OSU, said his office completely "re-engineered" its way of doing business to be more responsive to inquiries from prospective students and to use scarce resources more effectively.
"There are probably a hundred factors that go into the decision about where each student is going to college," Bontrager said. "We may be able to influence only five or six of those factors. But doing those five or six things right can have a positive effect."
Bontrager said the university has made a significant and noticeable commitment to recruit and retain students during the last two years. OSU President Paul Risser made numerous appearances at recruiting fairs and other events, and dozens of faculty and staff participated in new orientation programs called OSU Connect and OSU Odyssey, which have been credited with raising retention rates.
Those efforts appear to be paying off. Last year, the university increased its retention of students by more than 3.5 percent. And this fall, OSU expects a 12 percent increase in the number of Oregon students, and a 10 percent increase in out-of-state students.
Efforts to attract high-achieving students have also been successful, officials say. Among schools in the Oregon University System, OSU is first in attracting the most students with a grade point average of 3.75 or higher.
One key toward attracting and keeping students is to provide adequate scholarship support, said Orcilia Zuniga-Forbes, vice president for university advancement at OSU. During the biennium, the university and the OSU Foundation have provided nearly $1 million in new funding for scholarships.
The student enrollment success this fall is a marked turnaround from 1996-97.
Two years ago, the university's enrollment sank to 13,784 students, its lowest total in 30 years. The Oregon University System (then, the Oregon State System of Higher Education) penalized the university $2 million in 1996-97, then reduced its budget an additional $6 million the following year for failing to reach targeted enrollment goals.
The increase of more than 1,000 students in just two years should bring additional resources to the university, Hashimoto said. The Oregon University System has agreed on a new funding model based on performance - including student enrollment - but its exact impact on the universities' individual budgets won't be clear until at least the end of the legislative session next spring.
"Unfortunately," Hashimoto said, "we need additional resources right now. We've had to add 94 more course sections this fall on top of what we did last year to accommodate the thousand extra students, and to accomplish that we've reallocated resources within the university."
The impact of the new students will affect many areas of campus, including University Housing and Dining Services. For the first time in eight years, there is a shortage in student housing.
"We had to scramble to find housing for about 160 students, but we consider it a good problem to have," said Eric Hansen, assistant director of marketing and assessment for University Housing and Dining Services.
Those "good" problems may continue into the future. Oregon demographics suggests that the pool of high school students in the state should continue to grow. However, that doesn't necessarily translate automatically into burgeoning enrollments, Bontrager warned.
"The biggest thing we have to guard against is complacency," he said. "It is a highly competitive environment and nothing stands still. We'll have to work even harder next year just to maintain the gains we've made thus far."
Recent enrollment figures follow:
OSU Fall Term Enrollment:
- 1992 - 14,480
- 1993 - 14,356
- 1994 - 14,335
- 1995 - 14,161
- 1996 - 13,784
- 1997 - 14,127
- 1998 - 14,800 (estimated)