OSU enrollment may top 17,000 for first time in 19 years


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University is preparing to welcome back to school what appears to be its largest student body in 19 years - an estimated 17,000 students.

And the university, says OSU President Paul Risser, is ready.

"There is a genuine sense of excitement among our incoming students and our returning students about being a part of Oregon State University," Risser said. "They recognize that our campus has become a dynamic place and their excitement is contagious."

Just four years ago, OSU's enrollment had plummeted to 13,784 students - a 30-year low. Risser, who came to Oregon State in January of 1996 from Miami University in Ohio, immediately set out to reverse the downward enrollment spiral.

OSU reorganized its admission and orientation office, boosted the number of scholarships it offered, began an aggressive marketing campaign, initiated new recruitment and retention programs, and most importantly, changed the campus mindset.

"The single most critical thing that we have done is to put the focus on the student," Risser said. "We treat students and prospective students like they really matter to us - because they do. That attitude permeates throughout the university and it has made an enormous difference in how students view their experience."

While many other schools in the state experienced little or no growth, OSU began reaping the benefit of its work. In the fall of 1997, there were 14,127 students enrolled. A year later, that total was 14,618.

Last fall, Oregon State enrolled 16,061 students fall term, and an additional thousand students are expected this year.

There have been only three other times in OSU's 132-year history that enrollment has surpassed 17,000 students - all from 1979-81 - peaking with the university's record enrollment of 17,689 in 1980. That mark could fall by the wayside in 2001, said Bob Bontrager, director of Admission and Orientation at OSU.

"Trying to forecast enrollment that far in advance is difficult," Bontrager said, "but there is nothing to suggest any radical changes in enrollment trends."

Additional class sections have been added to accommodate the university's student growth - an adjustment made easier by the Oregon University System's new funding model, OSU leaders say. The university is targeting additional resources to its "baccalaureate core," or required classes.

OSU will be able to house additional students this year, though accommodations will be tight for a few days, according to Tom Scheuermann, director of University Housing and Dining Services. OSU has contracts with nearly 3,900 students for on-campus housing - the highest opening number in more than 10 years. The university is limiting the number of single rooms and creating temporary housing assignments in the residence halls to handle the rush. An OSU sorority house that is vacant this year also has been converted to a cooperative-style residence for 50 women.

"Once students move into fraternities and sororities, and we determine the number of 'no-shows,' things tend to sort out quickly," Scheuermann said. "Even with the increased numbers of students, we have a bed for everyone who has signed up for housing."

Construction of a new residence hall - OSU's first new student residence in 30 years - will begin soon on the south side of campus, accommodating 215 additional students by fall of 2001. OSU also is expanding its family housing with 13 additional apartments that will be available by next fall. And Buxton Hall, which is undergoing renovation, will reopen by September 2001 and house 215 students.

"We've been able to stay ahead of the enrollment curve, while at the same time offering new housing and dining options to students," Scheuermann said.