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Overall enrollment at Oregon public colleges, universities down this fall

Portland State University Campus
Hanin Najjar
/
OPB
Portland State University Campus

Many of Oregon’s public colleges and universities are seeing fewer students this fall compared to last year, according to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission. For some institutions, the decline in enrollment is a continuing trend only heightened by the pandemic.

“If you combine all of our public institutions, community colleges and universities – and look at student headcount – fall enrollment is down 1.2% from last year,” said HECC executive director Ben Cannon at a board meeting Thursday.

Cannon said it’s driven by an overall decline in community college enrollment of 3.6% in the state and a slight increase overall in public university enrollment of just less than 1%.

Cannon said enrollment rates are uneven across the state’s institutions. While some have seen increases or stabilization in enrollment, others continue to see declines.

The HECC has not yet released detailed enrollment numbers for the state’s public institutions, but Cannon said that would likely happen early this week.

Some universities have released details about their own fall term enrollment ahead of the HECC’s summary.

Oregon State University announced Thursday that it broke an enrollment record, with more than 35,000 students enrolled this fall term. That’s more than a 3% increase in enrollment over last fall.

The university says its main source of enrollment growth is online students registered through its Ecampus, which saw a nearly 6% increase in enrollment this fall compared to a 1% increase in enrollment at the main campus in Corvallis.

OSU is the only public higher education institution in the state that did not see any drop in enrollment throughout the course of the pandemic, according to HECC data.

“Record enrollments among students of color and first-year students, and increasing numbers of non-resident students, are evidence that Oregon State is increasingly seen as a destination for an inclusive and excellent education,” OSU President Jayathi Murthy said in a statement Thursday.

The University of Oregon announced a few months ago that it welcomed the largest incoming class in the university’s history this fall. The university has not yet released its total, finalized enrollment numbers for the term.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, other institutions are continuing to see enrollment declines.

At a board meeting last month, Portland State University officials disclosed that the university is continuing to see falling enrollment this school year. Already, fall enrollment from 2019 to 2021 has declined by nearly 11%, according to previous HECC data.

In documents from a PSU Finance & Administration Committee meeting on Thursday, the university went into further details on its enrollment outlook.

According to those documents, the number of Portland Community College students transferring to PSU has decreased by 27% since last year.

At the board meeting, PSU Board Chair Greg Hinckley noted that about half of the university’s students transferred from community colleges, particularly PCC.

Portland Community College has not yet released its finalized fall term enrollment, but according to data early in the term, the college saw 7% fewer students enrolled than the same time last year.

PCC saw the steepest decline in enrollment from 2019 to last fall across all of the state’s community colleges — a decrease of about 23%.

Overall, fewer Oregon high school graduates have chosen to enroll in college recently, according to HECC data.

HECC staff said Oregon high school graduates in the class of 2020 had 7% fewer people enrolled in any U.S. college within 16 months of graduation compared to the year prior.

Amy Cox, director of the HECC’s Office of Research & Data, said that decline may be due to students deferring college during the first year of the pandemic. But it won’t be clear until an additional year of data is available.

“This rate of decline is something that is pretty dramatic,” Cox said. “We are hoping that some of this will bump back up with next year’s rate, but time will tell. This is also happening parallel with enrollment declines … especially at the community colleges.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell
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