Some of Oregon’s private colleges are reporting increased and even record enrollment numbers as the fall approaches.

Although many of Oregon’s private colleges and universities did not see as dramatic of a drop in enrollment as public institutions during the height of the pandemic last fall, there were still some dips. For example, Portland’s Lewis & Clark saw about 100 fewer full-time equivalent students last fall in comparison to 2019, according to the school’s data.

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But, so far, this fall is showing an opposite trend.

Lewis & Clark said its College of Arts and Sciences is on par to bring in its largest class to date — a cohort of more than 700 students have committed for the fall.

Eric Staab, Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid at Lewis & Clark, said a few students may drop out of that incoming class before the college’s semester starts at the end of this month, but the cohort will still be far above the previous record-setting first-year class of 654 students in 2015.

This new class also has the largest number of students of color in the college’s history, comprising about 28% of the cohort.

Shiley Hall at the University of Portland

Shiley Hall at the University of Portland

Hanin Najjar / OPB

Staab said he thinks there are a few reasons for the anticipated influx of students — one being that the school was successful in its online outreach during the pandemic to students about programs and offerings.

“I think we did a really good job in the admissions office and the financial aid office of pivoting and getting adjusted to recruiting students in a COVID era,” Staab said.

At University of Portland, Oregon’s largest private university, fall enrollment is also trending upwards.

UP said it is seeing about 150 more first-year students committed to the fall term than it did last year — a comparison of 809 students in 2020 to 957 this fall. The university also has more first-generation domestic students and international students enrolled this fall compared to last year.

Portland’s Reed College is seeing similar boosts.

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Reed’s Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Milyon Trulove, said around this time last year there were about 340 first-year students confirmed for the fall. This year, there are more than 500.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Trulove said.

Reed has also seen more interest from specific demographic groups. Trulove said Reed will see “our largest class of domestic students of color” this fall.

He said this year has also brought the largest amount of international student applications in comparison to the past four years, though so far the incoming class is about the same as last year. Trulove noted that many international students are still having issues getting visas and flights during the pandemic.

‘Students are just tired of being home’

Some of Oregon’s private institutions are also seeing an increased number of students who deferred last year enrolling this fall.

“We had maybe about 20 to 30 students defer to this year,” Trulove said. “In a typical year, when people defer, maybe depending on the school, 50 to 80% show up. This year, we’re seeing about 90% show up.”

Trulove said he believes that those students are “hungry” to get back to school.

“They miss being in the classroom. They miss being with their classmates,” he said.

Staab with Lewis & Clark said the college saw a “record number” of students defer enrollment last year, and they’re committing to come this time around.

“I think it’s a reflection of the fact that students are just tired of being home,” Staab said. “They are ready to come to college and do their thing.”

Due to smaller class sizes, regular COVID-19 testing and other precautions, many of Oregon’s private institutions held a bulk of classes either in hybrid or in-person formats throughout last year.

In contrast, larger campuses — like some of Oregon’s public universities — had to shift predominately to remote learning. Staab said that could also be part of the reason why students are showing up in a record amount to Lewis & Clark this fall.

“I think we were demonstrating to prospective students that even in a COVID scenario, you can still be taking classes and be on campus,” he said. “And that plays also into the fact that we were able to provide tours for prospective students and their families during the course of the academic year, and they could see people walking around on campus. The campus was not totally shut down.”

Though many of Oregon’s private colleges and universities begin their fall terms this month, enrollment is still up in the air for public universities — many of which are back in session in late September.

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