CORVALLIS - More than 18,000 students have enrolled at Oregon State University's Corvallis and Cascades (Bend) campuses this fall, giving OSU the highest enrollment in school history. And the incoming class may have the highest grade point average the Oregon University System has ever seen.
OSU has enrolled 3,185 new freshmen, the largest class in 30 years. Even more impressive, the university's huge freshmen class has a whopping 3.53 average high school GPA.
The highest recorded grade point average for first-time freshman at OSU was 3.46, set last year. And since Oregon State has had the highest average GPA for entering freshmen among all universities in the state system from 1990-2001, the 3.53 average is thought to be the highest ever.
"It is tremendously gratifying to see a greater number of Oregon's brightest students staying in state and enrolling at Oregon State University," said OSU President Paul Risser. "These students are incredibly talented, motivated, and offer a wide range of perspectives and experiences. They want to make a difference in the world."
Oregon State's enrollment for its Corvallis campus is 17,920, a 7 percent increase over last year's fall enrollment of 16,777, according to Bob Bontrager, the assistant provost for enrollment management. An estimated 476 additional students are enrolled in OSU-Cascades Campus in Bend - the state's first branch campus - that opened in September. Of those, more than 200 are OSU students; others are enrolled in other academic institutions that partner with Oregon State in the new enterprise.
OSU's on-campus enrollment easily surpasses its previous enrollment record of 17,689 students set in 1980.
So why has OSU been able to attract a record number of students - and set a new standard for grade point average?
"We have worked hard the last few years to better inform top students about the outstanding opportunities available to them at OSU," Bontrager said. One of the most appealing opportunities for students, he added, is OSU's University Honors College.
"The development of the honors college is a huge factor among high-achieving students," Bontrager said. "What is particularly attractive about the program - and what sets it apart from other honors programs - is that students can pursue science, engineering, business, or natural resources in addition to humanities-based courses. That breadth is unusual and it is making a difference."
Joe Hendricks, dean of the University Honors College, said 135 new freshmen are enrolled in the program this fall. Applicants to the honors college boast an average GPA of 3.97, and average SAT scores of 1,376.
"The profile of our honors students would compare favorably with most of the top public and private institutions in the country," Hendricks said. "What is even more impressive is that these students are very well-rounded, they are ambitious and they are active in their community."
One of these honors students is Mark Abel, a freshman from Beaverton, who freely admits that he originally was hoping to go to Cal Tech instead of OSU. With a grade point average of 3.95, and a near-perfect SAT score of 1,580, he might have gone virtually anywhere. He chose OSU.
"I realized (that OSU) had all that I wanted," Abel said. "A strong chemistry and chemical engineering program, plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research, and a marching band.
"The next three years are going to be a blast," added Abel.
Kalan Guiley, a junior from Corvallis, was also set to go out of state when he graduated from Crescent Valley High School in 1999. He had his eye set on the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York - until he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. After beating the cancer, he decided to stay near his family for a year and enrolled at OSU, fully intending to transfer after his freshman year.
It never happened.
"I enrolled in the University Honors College and I got totally wrapped up in it," Guiley said. "There are smaller classes and a lot of attention on the individual. The honors college took the focus off of grades and put it back on learning."
Guiley is part of a new program through which older honors students serve as mentors for incoming freshmen. One of his first tasks, he said, is to try to get the freshmen to ease up a bit.
"A lot of them come in and want to take 20 hours," Guiley said. "You have to slow them down a bit. There is an honors board in the lounge listing where people have gone and you can read about students who spent the summer doing things like working in a hospital in Ecuador and dealing with situations we can't even imagine here.
"It's a pretty diverse group," added Guiley, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, philosophy and pre-med, and has minors in Spanish and math. "If there is a common trait, it's that they work hard and they play hard."
Guiley plans to go to medical school after graduation and work in a field that has special meaning for him - pediatric oncology. About two-thirds of OSU students applying to med school are successful, far above the national average of 35-40 percent. University Honors College students are even more successful - at more than 90 percent.
Laura Copeland, a freshman from Salem, says she chose OSU over small, private liberal arts colleges and public universities. With a GPA of 4.0, and an SAT score of 1,510, the English major had numerous options from which to choose.
"I have an older brother and several older friends who go to OSU and heard of their positive experiences," Copeland said. "Being accepted into the honors college helped me make my final decision. The opportunity to have smaller class sizes and the honors degree - along with the advantages of attending a larger university - helped me choose OSU over a private liberal arts college.
"I'm happy with my decision," she added, "and I'm loving it here."
A student enrollment of more than 17,900 represents a remarkable turnaround for OSU in just five years. In 1996, the university's enrollment had plummeted to 13,700 - the lowest it had been in 30 years. When Risser arrived on campus that year, he pledged to make students the university's top priority, then backed up that initiative by investing resources in student services, recruitment and marketing.
"He helped focus an attitude on campus by faculty, staff and administrators that the most important thing they would do each day was make the life of at least one student better," said Tim White, OSU provost and executive vice president.
"It had a direct and immediate impact on the mindset of the campus community."