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Oregon State University is hitting most of the right notes in the construction of its Student Success Center, a new $14 million building to be constructed near the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the south side of campus.

The university held a ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday for the building, which will become home base for the university's tutoring, supplemental instruction and academic transition programs.

The idea is to focus those services on first-year and transfer students: OSU officials are working to increase the retention rate of new students, especially in the face of national statistics suggesting that students who leave college are more likely to bolt after their first year.

OSU gets bonus points for its decision to open the services in the building to all students; originally, the idea was for the building to focus on student-athletes, but some OSU officials, most notably Director of Athletics Bob De Carolis, pushed to broaden the scope of the building. Good for them.

OSU has worked hard to improve the first-year experience for students, and so it must be a source of some frustration that one key tool for doing so - mandating that freshmen live on campus - remains out of reach, and is likely to stay that way as enrollment numbers grow.

The numbers tell the story: After the International Living-Learning Center opens in September, OSU will have about 4,500 beds in its dormitories, lodges and The Gem apartment complex. (OSU owns The Gem, but it's managed by a private company.)

OSU has plans to build a pair of additional dorms over the next few years. That should push the number of beds available on campus above 5,000.

By that time, though, it's not out of the question that enrollment at the Corvallis campus of OSU will be just shy of 30,000 students. Considering that OSU enrolled 3,696 freshmen and added 1,628 another transfers to the ranks of its undergraduates in the fall of 2010, it seems a safe assumption that the number of freshmen at an OSU with 30,000 students will outstrip the number of available beds - even if the university boots every sophomore off campus to find housing elsewhere.

In fact, OSU officials know they won't be able to house every freshman on campus any time soon. They do say they've set their sights on housing 90 to 95 percent of freshmen on campus within five years, but even that is an ambitious goal that will require considerable creativity.

Those numbers help to explain why OSU is putting such an emphasis on the programs that will be housed at the Student Success Center. Done right, the building should become a centerpiece for OSU's efforts to improve the first-year experience - even as some of those students are forced to look elsewhere for housing.



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