CORVALLIS - Despite rising tuition costs and declining numbers of international students because of tighter immigration rules, Oregon State University's enrollment outlook for the 2004-05 academic year is promising, officials say.

In fact, OSU is on pace to set a new enrollment record for the third consecutive year and top last year's record of 18,979 students.

"You never know until the final report is in," said Bob Bontrager, OSU's assistant provost for enrollment management. "But all indications are that we could surpass the 19,000-student mark for the first time in our history.

"Some institutions are experiencing enrollment declines, so it is encouraging to be in a positive position at this time of the year," Bontrager added. "It tells me that students understand the value of an Oregon State University education."

Official enrollment statistics are released by the Oregon University System at the end of the fourth week of fall term. Classes begin Monday, Sept. 27.

Oregon State President Ed Ray said OSU's enrollment success is the result of offering high-quality, relevant programs that meet the needs of both students and employers, as well as decisions to bolster student scholarship and work-study dollars. In January, the university announced it would use $1 million from the OSU Foundation to boost need-based scholarships, and in July OSU put an additional $300,000 into its work-study program, adding as many as 200 student jobs this year.

Ray said OSU's continuing enrollment success - this is the eighth consecutive year of increasing enrollment - does not erase concerns over student access.

"As a university, our enrollment picture looks good," Ray said, "but I hope that does not overshadow the urgent need of many students who are on the margin financially and in danger of being priced out of a college education. We've tried to help as many of those students as we can through our internal investments and we need to do more.

"Gov. Kulongoski and the Oregon legislature understand the need to improve that access and we look forward to working with them in the coming year," Ray added.

Michele Sandlin, OSU's director of admissions, said her visits to Oregon high schools "show that juniors and seniors are excited about the possibility of attending OSU.

"They are eager to learn about scholarship and internship opportunities," as well as curricular offerings, she said.

A preliminary look at OSU's 2004 fall enrollment indicates that the number of new students - both incoming freshmen and transfers - is about the same as last year. The anticipated bump in enrollment suggests that the university is finding success in boosting retention - one of Ray's goals.

The top majors for incoming students are engineering, followed by science, business, liberal arts and exploratory studies.