OSU-Cascades expansion in Bend may ease student population crunch at Corvallis campus
BEND — It’s a desolate expanse of concrete now, this corner of Southwest Simpson Avenue and Columbia Street a couple of miles away from the lively downtown of this central Oregon city.
This used to be the park-and-ride lot where skiers could hop on the bus to Mount Bachelor, which explains the covered bus stop at the site.
Now, this is the location where administrators of Oregon State University’s Cascades campus are planning for their future.
What happens here over the next decade or so not only will shape the future of the Bend campus, it also will influence what happens to Oregon State University in Corvallis. OSU officials are hoping to turn Cascades into a spot that will absorb some of OSU’s growing enrollment. And that, in turn, could ease some of the student population issues that concern Corvallis and the rest of the mid-valley.
“There are students who want the OSU brand; they want the OSU degree; they want the OSU programs, and there is a pressure in Corvallis to meet that demand,” said Becky Johnson, the vice president of OSU-Cascades. “Here’s a place they can get that OSU brand in a different location — in a city that is dying for expansion of higher education ... So you’re going from a city that is a little more reluctant about the growth — although I am sure they love the university there — to a city that absolutely would love to have those 5,000 students.”
But this vacant parking lot in Bend also suggests a key question: Can OSU-Cascades accommodate its own goals of being a four-year university, with enrollment booming from its current 1,000 students to as many as 5,000 — by 2025?
The OSU-Cascades campus was established in 2001 as an upper-division campus. Until this year, it also offered programs for students from other four-year schools, such as the University of Oregon and Oregon Institute of Technology.
Starting this academic year, the campus will embrace what Christine Coffin, the director of communications and outreach, calls true “OSU-ness.”
Coffin said that about a year ago, the Cascades school board created a vision that OSU-Cascades would serve only one entity. “We were trying to brand ourselves and build identity.”
Ten years after its launch, the branch campus had awarded 1,700 degrees. As of fall 2011, about half of the insitution’s graduates were the first in their family to attend college. And about the same percentage of graduates expressed plans to remain in central Oregon after they graduated in 2010.
OSU-Cascades will have an overall budget of a little more than $8 million this fall. The state will provide $4.2 million and student tuition provides the rest, Coffin said.
The branch institution is housed in just two buildings in Bend. One of them, Cascades Hall on the campus of Central Oregon Community College, is leased from the college.
OSU-Cascades owns its second building, the nearly-30,000 square-foot Graduate & Research Center. It houses administrative staff and graduate teaching and counseling programs.
Several organizations, including The Governor’s Regional Solutions Center, Bend Research and AT&T, lease portions of the building, which also includes six classrooms and three research labs.
There are strong connections between Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades. But Central Oregon Community College has more than 18,000 students total, and OSU-Cascades officials know that the community college eventually wants to have Cascades Hall back for its own use. OSU-Cascades plans to move out of the hall by 2015.
In the meantime, enrollment at OSU-Cascades is driven to some extent by growth at Central Oregon Community College, Coffin said. More than 40 percent of Cascade students come from the so-called 2+2 program, a partnership in which students go to the community college to get lower-division credits before transferring to Cascades. (It’s similar to a program between the OSU campus in Corvallis and Linn-Benton Community College.)
“We’re definitely influenced by their growth,” Coffin said.
The campus is seemingly bursting at the seams in need of classroom space, but Johnson and Julie Hotchkiss, director of development at OSU-Cascades, are optimistic about deadlines for expansion and building based on support they’ve already received from Bend and surrounding communities.
“Central Oregon has been asking for a four-year university for decades,” Johnson said.
And earlier this summer, the Oregon Board of Higher Education took a big step in that direction by approving an expansion of OSU-Cascades programs to include lower-division courses. Some of those lower-division classes will be offered starting this fall.
Now that it has the support of the Oregon University System, the next big step will be going to the Legislature in 2013 looking for some $16 million of funding.
Looking into the future
While OSU-Cascades currently has two buildings to its name, plans for additional buildings remain on the drawing board.
Fundraising for the Bend campus is part of the Campaign for OSU’s $1 billion goal. Hotchkiss said fundraising for OSU-Cascades is different than other universities because it is too young to have an alumni association that can fund its growth.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve really secured a good amount of community support for this institution,” Hotchkiss said. “We’ve heard how excited the community is about OSU-Cascades as it existed before, but even more about its potential.”
In May, OSU-Cascades began the first phase of a campaign for $4 million in private philanthropy to match its request for $16 million in state bonds by the end of 2013. About $1.8 million came in six weeks from 59 individuals and corporations within the community.
“Right now we have to raise the money that is necessary to build facilities that will accommodate up to 2,000 students by 2019,” Hotchkiss said. “We feel that there is great potential in meeting these deadlines.”
While OSU-Cascades officials focus philanthropic efforts around the development of facilities, they support academic programs that represent a different recruitment strategy, through tuition.
According to Natalie Dollar, the associate dean of new programs at OSU-Cascades, the process of designing programs is long term and ongoing, as the OSU-Cascades works to develop programs that are unique to the branch and to Central Oregon.
“We don’t want to duplicate” offerings at the Corvallis campus, Dollar said, noting that the campus’ goal in developing majors is to draw students from a wider base.
So the programs that are taking shape at OSU-Cascades will attempt to address the needs of Bend and the surrounding region, such as tourism and outdoor leadership and hospitality management. Administrators also are developing an exercise and sports science major, with the thought that those classes will be a nice fit with the active lifestyles of Bend residents.
Programs that will offer lower-division courses to the first freshman class, scheduled to start in the fall of 2015, include American studies, liberal studies, psychology and social sciences.
“We have to think more like a start-up company than a university sometimes, and that’s exciting,” Dollar said.
Coffin noted that OSU-Cascades will need a total of 90,000 square feet to accommodate all the students it expects by 2015. With the purchase of the 30,000 square foot Graduate & Research Center, that means Cascades officials need to find or build another 60,000 square feet of space in the next few years. (The preference for the short term among Cascades administrators is to buy existing buildings rather than build them.)
It’s a challenge – and a race against time – that animates OSU-Cascades adminstrators.
But it will require support from the state, and OSU President Ed Ray isn’t about to take that for granted.
“We will make a strong case during the legislative session to garner support from the Legislature and the Governor for the funds needed to expand the Cascades campus,” Ray wrote in an email to the Gazette-Times. “A lot of people are counting on us to succeed, but there are no guarantees. We simply must stay the course and make our case as effectively as possible.”
Easing the pressure
It remains to be seen if the planned expansion at OSU-Cascades will offer much relief to the growth issues at the campus in Corvallis.
But Ray said development of the branch campus plays an essential role in OSU’s plans to moderate growth in Corvallis, while still meeting the university’s responsibility to the state’s goal of 40-40-20. (The 40-40-20 refers to the state’s goal that, by 2025, 40 perfect of adult Oregonians will have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40 percent will have an associate degree or post high school certificate and 20 percent with a high school diploma or its equivalent.)
“Expanding enrollment at the Cascades campus to 3,000-5,000 by 2025 is critical to our overall enrollment management plan,” Ray wrote in an email.
Johnson said the development of OSU-Cascades offers hope for Corvallis’ capacity issues, but she is determined to maintain the campus’ identity as a complement to the main campus and not just a substitute.
“If we can take some of the growth pressure off of Corvallis, that will hopefully alleviate some of the issues going on in terms of parking and housing and general capacity issues, but I don’t see any other great impacts on the city of Corvallis,” Johnson said.
Ray noted that OSU plans to provide admission and financial aid services to the branch campus, and also to plans to increase efforts to recruit students – in-state, out-of-state and international — specifically to OSU-Cascades.
Boom for Bend?
Meanwhile, residents and businesses in Bend, a city of roughly 77,000, are looking forward to the potential growth of OSU-Cascades.
A couple of blocks away from that empty lot where a new Cascades campus eventually could bloom is a bakery, Baked.
Owner Gordon Benzer said he’s looking forward to the development of a four-year university in the area. And he thinks that Baked will benefit from the growth of OSU-Cascades.
“I accept food stamps and a lot of students are on food stamps,” Benzer said.
But he wants to expand his clientele: “I’d like to have more professors of a higher caliber because those are the people who patronize my business and who I like to talk to.”
Benzer understands that there might be issues triggered by rapid growth of Cascades — the town’s rental market, for example, might experience some of the tightness that has long marked the rental market in the mid-valley — but he said the benefits are likely to outweigh disadvantages.
“As long as there’s smart planning, negative impacts will be minimal,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”