With some Oregon public universities officially passing freshman application deadlines, two of the state’s largest institutions are reporting an increase in applicants for the upcoming fall term.

The University of Oregon has received a record number of freshman applications for this upcoming fall term. UO said Monday nearly 33,000 students had applied for fall 2021 admission.

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This comes after the COVID-19 pandemic caused an enrollment decline at most of Oregon’s public universities last fall. UO saw about 800 fewer total enrolled students last fall compared to fall 2019, according to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

“This is an exciting milestone for us,” said Roger Thompson, UO’s vice president for student services and enrollment management, “to move from where we were 10 years ago with 18,000 applications all the way to 32,700 basically.”

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Alan Sylvestre

In that record number of applications, Thompson said more than 6,000 Oregonian students applied. That’s also the highest number of in-state applicants the university has seen in at least a decade.

Oregon State University also had its priority freshman application deadline pass recently — on Feb. 1, though the university is accepting freshman applications until late August.

As of Monday, OSU said it has received more than 19,600 applications — a 30% increase this year compared to the same time last year.

“We think there remains a great deal of uncertainty related to the pandemic,” Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations and marketing, said. “As a result, students are likely to be making decisions late into summer about if they will attend college this fall, as well as when and where they might go to school.”

Still, OSU attributes the increase in applications to factors that have made it easier for students to apply to the university. Officials point to OSU’s joining the Western Undergraduate Exchange this year — a program which offers a number of scholarships — and OSU’s improved recruitment and admissions processes, like allowing students to upload unofficial transcripts while they’re applying, expediting the admission process.

At UO, Thompson said the institution’s record number of applicants is not necessarily surprising, even during the pandemic, given the university’s recent trend of increasing application numbers.

“I think we’ve done a good job of communicating the academic strength, the quality of our programs,” he said.

Thompson also said UO has seen growing racial diversity in this batch of applications.

“Across all of our race and ethnicity groups — Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Asian, multi-racial, and all students from a diverse background — we’re ahead, we’re up,” he said.

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Thompson clarified, the university is up only by about 1.5% in racially diverse applicants for fall, but “it’s important because we’ve traditionally been trending in that way, so anytime you’re ahead, when you’re improving on past records, it is really important.”

The university is also ahead of last year’s numbers for Pathway Oregon recipients — that’s a scholarship program for low income Oregon residents who are Pell Grant eligible and have over a 3.3 grade point average.

Oregon’s smaller regional universities with recent application deadlines are not necessarily touting application rebounds.

Southern Oregon University had a “priority” freshman application deadline on Feb. 1. The university did not provide any information to OPB as to how applications have varied since last year.

SOU said it would be more reasonable to compare figures later in the spring, “when this year’s pandemic-affected numbers would be measured against last year’s number that had at least begun to be affected by the pandemic.”

Western Oregon University also had a freshman application deadline on Feb. 1, though it offers rolling admissions — meaning that students can technically apply for fall term basically right before it begins.

Because of those rolling admissions, WOU said many applications continue to be processed, but as of last Friday the university said it was about 10% behind where it was at the same time last year.

“We are confident that we will continue to admit students through winter, spring and summer terms, as we always do,” WOU said.

Even at Oregon universities that are seeing an application boom, the rebound isn’t occurring with every student group.

Thompson said the one place UO has seen a decrease in applicants has been from international students. He said the university has received 3% fewer applications from international students this year compared to last year, though he said that’s been a trend nationwide.

“I think it’s going to take awhile for the international market to come back,” Thompson said.

UO had the earliest freshman fall term application deadline this year out of all Oregon public universities — Jan. 15 — but Thompson said the university is still accepting late freshman applications, based on available space.

The university’s deadline for transfer students isn’t until June, so Thompson said he expects the university will receive even more applications by then.

“I think there’s still a group of students out there who are trying to understand where COVID’s going to be by next fall,” he said. “So, I expect us to see some growth in our transfer applications between now and the fall, and I honestly think we’ll see a few more freshman applications coming in too.”

Thompson said he hopes to see a return to a more normal-looking campus experience come the fall.

“I think we’re going to see a bit of a surge of attendance in the fall,” he said. “I believe the country is going to get vaccines in peoples’ arms and this COVID situation is going to look dramatically different in three to five months from now, and I think that’s going to enable us to be creating a much more in-person, robust student experience for fall — and I think our students and families are ready for that.”

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