OSU's growing pains

2010-09-26T09:00:00Z OSU's growing painsBy Gail Cole, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
September 26, 2010 9:00 am  • 

When returning students begin the fall 2010 term Monday at Oregon State University, they’ll notice that lines are longer and the competition for everything from classes to parking spaces has never been more intense.

OSU is expecting up to 24,000 students — yet another record year of enrollment and the continuance of a 10-year trend. And while OSU’s enrollment has grown slowly over its 142-year history, the pace has increased dramatically in the past three years. (See graphic.)

For instance, the anticipated 9.2-percent jump from fall 2009’s record 21,969 students would put OSU on track for OSU President Ed Ray’s envisioned student enrollment of 30,000 to 35,000 students by 2025.

If this fall’s student enrollment reaches 24,000 (final official figures won’t be in for a few weeks), that would put OSU within 500 students of its current capacity of 24,500 — a number determined by classroom size, academic advising and housing resources.

The attitude of students interviewed last week about their large number seemed to be “the more, the merrier.”

“There’s a lot of positive energy about the size of the incoming class,” said Christian Matheis, a student advocate with the Associated Students of OSU, who led a community activism workshop targeting new students for Connect Week.

Universities are busting out all over

The seven public colleges and universities that comprise the Oregon University System also are seeing vigorous growth. Between 1999 and 2009, the OUS saw enrollment increase from 67,347 to 91,580 — a 26 percent jump. Higher ed officials expect to see more than 93,000 students in the system this year.

OSU’s own enrollment has steadily grown since 1997 — the year after the student population slumped to 13,784.

“There’s a pretty comprehensive enrollment plan that has been put in place (since 1996),” said Kate Peterson, assistant provost for enrollment management at OSU. The university began a campaign of focused marketing and enrollment strategies targeted toward driving up enrollment.

The 2009 OUS enrollment report — released annually in November — originally forecasted a smaller OSU student population for this fall, but everyone from the Registrar’s office to University Housing and Dining Services have been preparing for a jump in student numbers.

Where are all the new students coming from?

Much of the growth will be driven by transfers from Oregon’s community colleges, which have seen an even greater growth in enrollment due to the poor economy, as those who cannot find work in dwindling market sectors return for retraining in a new profession.

George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System, said Oregon community colleges saw a 15 to 45 percent enrollment increase last year. Similar numbers can be expected this year, he said Wednesday during a meeting that he and President Ray had with the Gazette-Times editorial board.

The financial woes of California and Washington also may be driving students to Oregon. The University of California system began enforcing enrollment caps last year. Washington’s public universities also have enrollment caps in place. Oregon’s do not.

“We are able to educate those students,” Pernsteiner said.

OSU already has a large number of students from bordering states. In fall 2009, 1,070 California residents and 830 Washington residents enrolled at OSU; at a total of 1,900, students from these two states accounted for 11.5 percent of OSU’s total student population.

Making room with a view to the future

Visible evidence of OSU’s growth is all the new construction on campus.

The Linus Pauling Science Center, located on 30th Street and Campus Way, and the INTO-OSU Living Learning Center, located on 17th Street and Western Boulevard, are scheduled to open in the fall of 2011.

The Linus Pauling building includes laboratories and a 183-seat lecture hall, while the INTO building includes a 107-seat lecture hall, offices and smaller classrooms. In addition, 20 general-

purpose classrooms throughout campus — ranging in capacity from 35 to 70 — have been upgraded with new furniture to accommodate more students. Upgrades on 13 other general-purpose classrooms will be completed by winter term.

Several large lecture halls, including the 708-seat Milam Auditorium, also will be renovated in the summer and ready for fall 2011.

Kent Kuo, OSU’s registrar, said the upgrades have created an easy scheduling process for fall term. He reported that many academic advisors have said there haven’t been problems with registering students for classes so far, and that he’s heard students have been able to enroll in classes that help them make adequate progress in their major.

“At this late in the game ... it’s a real win for everybody,” Kuo said.

Faculty ranks also growing

Some new faces will be teaching in those renovated classrooms. After reviewing proposals put forth by the four academic divisions since spring, the provost’s office approved and financed the hiring of 32 newly created faculty positions across each of the divisions. The new positions will be filled by hiring committees throughout the year.

The basics of providing food and shelter to all the new students on campus are being addressed by the University Housing & Dining Services department. The new INTO building has the capacity to house 350 students. The extra space will take the burden off housing and dining officials who have had to be innovative to meet the needs of students who live on campus.

In the meantime, said Eric Hansen, the associate director of housing and dining, double rooms have been turned into triple rooms. Some lounge areas have become lodging. Officials also told students that only 400 who already had lived in student housing could return. Normally, that cap is 600 to 800. That will mean more students seeking housing in Corvallis and surrounding communities.

Looking ahead

With indications that there will be even more growth in coming years, OSU’s housing and dining services already are planning for that long-term increase in students. With the INTO residence building well on its way to completion, Hansen said the department is in the early stages of planning another residence hall. Construction could begin in two or three years.

Where the hall will be located, or how large it will be, has yet to be decided.

With growth in mind, members of OSU administration feel confident in their ability to serve students this year and in the future.

“We’ve got capacity to provide the level of outstanding services and course access that they require to succeed,” said Todd Simmons, interim vice president for university advancement, “and we’re hoping it’s going to be a good fall term.”

And what of the future? More of the same.

Oregon University System officials expect a 3 percent increase for the 2011-12 academic year.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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