College enrollment up thanks to stimulus, bonds and 'recession'

College enrollment up thanks to stimulus, bonds and 'recession'
Image courtesy of the Associated Press Graphics Bank.

PORTLAND, Ore. – A record number of students are beginning classes today in Oregon state universities, making 92,000 people at campuses in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, four other Oregon University System schools and two OUS affiliates.

Higher-education officials expect more than 93,000 students in the system by the end of this year. Indeed, between 1999 and 2009 the Oregon University System saw enrollment increase from 67,347 to 91,580. That's a 26 percent jump in one decade.

And the growth in post-secondary-institution enrollment is not isolated to Oregon's state universities. Officials at many of the state's private and community college populations also are expecting their highest enrollments yet for fall 2010.

To be sure, fall's exact enrollment numbers won't be in for a few more weeks, as students can still enroll or unenroll from classes.  Nonetheless, preliminary numbers suggest Oregon schools have used stimulus dollars and tax measures to make way for tens of thousands of new students this fall. 

And that could spell good news for Oregon's economy. A 2005 study of college-student spending habits found the new students drop about $400 a year into the local economy. At, say, 10,000 new students statewide this fall, that's a $4 million economic boost in local business receipts and state sales tax revenues.

Meanwhile, Oregon's college growth comes as colleges in other states move to cap enrollment.

At Washington State University in Pullman
, administrators reportedly are limiting the number of incoming in-state freshman as a cost-cutting measure. Notwithstanding, the school's enrollment remains about the same as that of last year.

In California, faced with massive state budget cuts, "the 10-campus University of California reduced enrollment of California-resident freshmen by 6 percent, or about 2,300 students, and is expected to shrink enrollment further this year even as a record number of applicants applied for admission for the fall of 2010," USA Today reports.

"If we continue to enroll the same number of students as we have in the past," UC Director of Student Policy Nina Robinson told the paper, "we risk affecting the quality of education for our current students."

Here, takes a look at what is happening in some of Oregon's post-secondary schools, and why insiders say this year is set to break records.

For Oregon State University in Corvallis, where the brother-in-law of the current U.S. President coaches basketball, record enrollment has translated to longer lines and greater competition for everything from classes to parking places.

OSU officials say they expect an estimated 24,000 students this year – marking another record enrollment year. Student registrations have grown gradually over the school's 142-year history. However, within the past three years the pace has increased dramatically.

Why the jump? According to The Oregonian, OSU joins other Oregon universities trying harder to retain students. This comes after the newest numbers show one in five freshmen usually quit in the first year. The O also reports such universities as OSU are hiring additional support staff: enlisting more advisers, tutors and mentors and expanding programs to help students manage everything from course load to finances.

This comes as OSU spends its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars, including $252 million in federal research grants and contracts earned in 2009. The school's website reports the $252-million amount is "more than that received by all other Oregon public universities combined."

Some of the funding for expansion also came from state stimulus dollars. These funds were approved for "capital construction" projects as part of Oregon Senate Bill 338. For example, reported that $500,000 in state stimulus money paid for part of a $3.7 million renovation of OSU's Gill Coliseum, where the Beavers play basketball.

The Gazette-Times reports OSU's anticipated 9.2 percent jump from fall 2009's record of 21,969 students would put OSU on track for the school president's envisioned enrollment of 30,000 to 35,000 students by 2025.

At Portland State University, students started moving into their City Center-area dorms this past week. Enrollment at PSU is expected to top 30,000 this fall – with 28,000 at last count. That also would be a record for the school.  

In June 2010, more than 5,000 PSU students earned their degrees. Already this was the largest class in the college's history – in part because PSU spent a reported $52 million of its 2009 stimulus funds on pay and benefits for the staff to support those students.

In November the university plans to start construction on a 16-story, $60 million dormitory with academic and retail space on its downtown campus. This additional space, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce, will help PSU reach its goal of providing housing for up to 25 percent of its growing number of students.
The belltower at University of Portland, dedicated this past year as one of four new features on the North Portland campusAlso having a record year is University of Portland, a pricey private Catholic school tucked in North Portland. This year it ranked 9th out of 125 institutions listed in U.S. News & World Report's “Regional Universities – West” classification for "America’s Best Colleges.”

This was the 16th consecutive year UofPortland landed in the "America's Best Colleges" listings – translating to unprecedented enrollment growth as well. Over the past year the university has opened four new buildings: two residence halls, and a new campus belltower and an expanded and renovated engineering building. Also expanded was the campus dining hall, nearly doubling its existing size.

The university also welcomed its largest incoming freshmen class – a record 816 students – in the fall of 2009 and received an all-time high of 11,382 applications for fall 2010 enrollment.

Meanwhile, community colleges statewide are seeing similar growth.


At Portland Community College, this is the 13th straight term of double-digit growth for PCC, with the winter 2009 term alone jumping 20 percent term-over-term.

"Last year we were up 15 percent year-over-year from fall 2008 to 2009," said PCC spokesperson Dana Haynes, "and we think we're going to be about that this year."

And despite another year of letting more students on to PCC campuses, the waiting lists for certain classes continue.

"We have long waiting lists in career and technical classes, welding, machining; in nursing we have a long, long waiting list," Haynes said. "The other waiting list is for the transferrable classes – reading, writing, math – that you would transfer into the university system to get a degree."

For PCC, the answer to its enrollment growth came in the form of a 2008 bond measure. That year voters in five counties said 'Yes' to a PCC bond measure on the November ballot. The money generated from that bond measure, which appeared on five different ballots where PCC has campuses, paid for the opening of its Willow Creek branch in Washington County, breaking ground on a Newberg campus and transferring human resources and administration to a new downtown headquarters – leaving more space for students on its current campuses.

"Within the next year we'll start talking about building on the campuses themselves," Haynes said. "We'll be talking with the community, externally and internally with students and faculty, saying, 'OK, you said yes to the bond measure; now what do you want the campuses to look like?'"

PCC boasts three full-time campuses, five centers and more than 20 campuses where it offers classes. "All that space allows us to 'move the chess pieces,'" Haynes said. Those are chess pieces that, figuratively, stretch the same size geographical area as the state of Rhode Island.

The community college now has 87,000 students enrolled, making it larger than all seven of the state university schools combined.

"The waiting lists have been a traditional thing here ever since the economy went south," Haynes said. "During the recession, all of Oregon's 17 independent colleges began seeing an uptick in students. That was true during the last recession as well – just as DHS sees an increase in demand when the economy went south."

Haynes said people are using community colleges to learn new skill sets, update their resumes and serve as an alternative to going into or back to the workforce at a time when competition for available jobs is fierce. In 2009 PCC officials told the Associated Press the number of full-time equivalent students 50 or older taking career and professional technical courses had increased by nearly 19 percent since 2006. (See "Ore. boomers back in school for encore careers," "PCC is seeing more older students in its classrooms" or "Lots of folks choosing college, according to PCC's numbers.")

However, the decision many adults are making to return to school hasn't meant growth for all Oregon community colleges, Haynes said. Squeezed to the brink of their current campuses, "some of the smaller independent community colleges are at the point where they are turning away students," Haynes said.

A college in Bend is reportedly one of the schools that have run out of space.

"At PCC we can lease space and add more facilities – such as the new administration office downtown at 2nd and Yamhill – that lets us turn more campus space into classrooms and labs," Haynes said. "We have the flexibility, as large as we are, to try to meet the demand."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

What can you add to this discussion? What are you seeing as the reason enrollment figures are up in Oregon schools? Add your feedback in the comment fields below.

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