It’s been a rough fall for colleges and universities as the coronavirus pandemic has forced classes online and scared away incoming students all over the country. But some institutions are weathering the problems better than others.
Oregon’s public universities aren’t seeing steep declines, but most are seeing at least a dent in enrollment, according to the latest information from the first few weeks of fall term.
Preliminary figures at Portland State University show a seven percent decline this fall. PSU was already seeing the student body shrink last spring before the coronavirus upended college admissions and operations. The state’s largest urban university has seen enrollment go down each fall since 2016. University officials anticipate that trend to continue when official numbers are released next week.
The University of Oregon said its preliminary enrollment figures this fall show a three percent decline compared with fall 2019. In short, that’s a slight decrease, but a larger one than UO has had in recent years. Between 2017 and 2018, and from 2018 to 2019, university enrollment slipped by less than one percent.
At the state’s largest university, Oregon State, freshman enrollment is down but overall enrollment is continuing its upward trend.
All three of Oregon’s largest public colleges are dealing with more barriers than the effect of COVID-19 on local and out-of-state students coming to campus. For the last several years, admissions officials have found that the legal and political climate in the US has made it harder to recruit and retain international students — a problem made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
One public university is touting its growth this fall, particularly among its incoming freshmen. The Oregon Institute of Technology’s freshman class was 11% larger in fall 2020 than the year before, capping a 40% growth period since 2017. Oregon Tech is smaller than UO, PSU and OSU, so it’s easier to make large percentage gains, but sustaining growth at a time when other colleges are happy just to hang on is significant. Administrators connect the enrollment trend to OIT’s high marks for “return on investment” among colleges in the Northwest.
“This is also a particularly impactful contribution to our state as we meet the growing demands for qualified workforce during these uncertain times we are currently facing through the pandemic,” said Oregon Tech president Dr. Nagi Naganathan in a written statement.
University enrollment is a complicated picture, even at colleges like OIT that are bringing in larger freshman classes. Oregon Tech attracted fewer transfer students from community colleges this year, resulting in an overall enrollment number that didn’t change much — rising by just 30 students.