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Oregon State University’s new president interested in online program growth

Jayathi Y. Murthy, Oregon State University's 16th president.
Oregon State University
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Jayathi Y. Murthy, Oregon State University's 16th president.

Jayathi Murthy plans to focus on improving Oregon State University’s graduation rates, furthering research and continuing to grow what is already the state’s largest university — including its online enrollment. The new university president says she’s received a warm welcome from the OSU campus community as she steps into her role as the university’s new president.

Murthy started Friday, with Monday as her first “public” day on the job.

While many other universities and colleges in Oregon have seen new leadership recently, Murthy has a unique perspective at OSU. While enrollment has trended downward across public universities in Oregon, and across the country, during the pandemic, OSU has seen growth.

During the pandemic, OSU was the only public university in Oregon to see an increase in enrollment in both 2020 and 2021, according to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

Much of that growth has come from enrollment in OSU’s online “Ecampus” programs. Last fall, the university saw a 14% increase in student enrollment in the online campus.

“For us, we take both parts of our enrollment picture very seriously,” Murthy said in regard to the university’s in-person and online students. “Certainly our on-campus footprint is really important, but there’s a growing interest in our Ecampus operation, which is truly unique, one of a kind.”

According to the university, the Ecampus serves more than 12,800 students from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. It offers more than 100 degrees and programs as well as online student services and student success coaching.

In-state students who take a full term of classes in-person pay slightly less than those who take an Ecampus term. According to OSU, 15 credits for new Ecampus students this fall term is $5,190. For in-person, in-state students, 15 credits cost roughly $4,400.

Students enrolled in Ecampus are charged a $93 per credit hour “distance learning fee,” according to OSU. Officials say that helps to cover the additional costs of developing and delivering the online courses, which are taught by Oregon State faculty members. However, OSU notes that online students don’t have to pay other fees that on-campus students do.

There’s no difference in tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students taking Ecampus classes, so out-of-state students pay substantially less for online classes than to attend in-person. For new nonresident students this fall, taking 15 credits on campus adds up to about $11,700 per term, or more than twice what it would cost online.

“Through Ecampus, we can serve classes of students who are nontraditional — sometimes working parents, people who are looking for a different track in their careers — and these are important populations, so I see us investing quite heavily in both our on-campus operations and the Ecampus,” Murthy said Monday.

Murthy comes to OSU from the University of California Los Angeles where she was the first woman dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She was also a professor in UCLA’s mechanical and aerospace department. She’s the first-ever woman of color to lead Oregon’s largest public university.

When asked about her vision and goals for the future of OSU, Murthy said a big focus will be on student success.

“I think the student is the heart of our operation. That’s why we’re here,” Murthy said. “I’d like to focus on getting our graduation rates up and ensuring our students have a wonderful experience, but [also] a great success and placement going forward.”

The six-year graduation rate for students who entered OSU as freshmen in 2015 was about 68%, according to data from the university. That’s slightly above the graduation rate for Oregon public universities as a whole. According to the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the most recent six-year graduation rate was about 67% for in-state students and about 65% for out-of-state students.

Murthy also spoke with excitement about furthering Oregon State’s research and its commitment to equity and inclusion.

Murthy takes the place of OSU’s previous permanent leader, F. King Alexander. Alexander resigned last year amid criticism about mishandled sexual misconduct allegations at his last university.

Rebecca “Becky” Johnson filled the gap in between Alexander and Murthy as the university’s interim president. She retired last week after a 37-year career at OSU.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell