As we continue to ponder the implications of the ambitious plan for the future of Oregon State University recently outlined by OSU President Ed Ray, we keep focusing on the plan's projections for the growth of the student body.
The overall goal of "OSU 2025," as Ray explained in a recent speech, is to firmly move OSU into the ranks of the nation's top 10 land-grant universities.
One of the keys to doing that, the president said, is to increase the size of the student body into the range of 30,000-35,000 students - an increase of more than 40 to 60 percent over the next 15 years.
That's a substantial jump in enrollment.
But, while it represents a challenge to OSU, it would be foolish to dismiss the goal as unrealistic. Here's why:
Go back 15 years and take a look at OSU's enrollment in 1994: 14,429.
OSU hasn't yet released its fall term enrollment tally, but it's widely assumed that the number will top 21,000 and set another enrollment record.
In other words, OSU's enrollment has grown more than 45 percent in the previous 15 years. (It's worth noting as well that the university's enrollment growth outpaced the national number; total enrollment in degree-granting institutions between 1993 and 2007 increased 28 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.) Even if OSU stays on track with 45 percent enrollment growth over the next 15 years, the institution still winds up with more than 30,000 students.
Suddenly, the kind of potential enrollment growth called for in "OSU 2025" doesn't seem completely out of the question, although OSU will have to continue to outpace the national projections, which have enrollment increasing some 13 percent by 2018.
Here's the bottom line: It won't do to dismiss "OSU 2025" as a pipe dream. The debate and discussions that we need to have about the plan's implications and possibilities for both the university and the community need to proceed from the assumption that this could happen.
Are we ready for 10,000 to 15,000 more students and the hundreds of additional faculty members it would take to teach them? Of course not - not yet. But it would be inexcusable if we didn't start the process now of preparing for that possible future.