Oregon’s universities and community colleges have continued to shrink since the highs they reached during the Great Recession, going back a decade. Total university enrollment is at its lowest point since 2012, and the enrollment of students from Oregon is in a trough not seen since 2008.
According to numbers from Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the only public university where enrollment went up this fall is Oregon State University. OSU's student body grew mainly thanks to increases at its Cascades branch campus in Bend and from its online courses. OSU's "Ecampus" grew by 7.9 percent from a year ago and OSU-Cascades grew by 4.6 percent.
Oregon’s public universities have seen a steady shift in recent years, as the share of out-of-state students has grown, while in-state students have decreased. The number of out-of-state students at Oregon’s public universities roughly doubled from 2006 to 2017.
Oregon university officials point out that the number of high school graduates in the state has declined in recent years, and they say more of those graduates are opting for community college.
But overall enrollment at Oregon’s community colleges is also declining, according to the HECC’s numbers. Eleven of the state’s 17 community colleges shrank this fall, including the largest in the state, Portland Community College, which shrank by more than 4 percent, according to HECC.
University officials pointed out that even if they're seeing more Oregonians choose to start their higher education careers at community colleges, they’re attracting more of them later on. Inbound transfers are up at both OSU and Portland State University, including a nearly 12 percent increase at PSU. More than one-third of those transfer students are part of PSU’s “Transfers Finish Free” program, aimed at helping eligible students finish degrees at minimal cost.
What had been a growing part of enrollment at Portland State and Oregon State universities declined this fall: international students. PSU officials had anticipated a possible dampening in international applications, as a result of federal policies, like the Trump administration's "travel ban." PSU's international student enrollment went down 8 percent, according to figures the university released last month. Overall enrollment at PSU fell by almost 1,000 students, or about 3 percent.
"The president's immigration policies are some of the factors that add to an already difficult situation that PSU and universities nationwide are experiencing in recruiting these students," said Ken Ma, director of media and public relations at PSU. "Recruiting has become extremely competitive as the pool of international students keeps shrinking."
Oregon State Vice President Steve Clark said that the travel ban did not directly affect its 4 percent drop in international students. Clark said countries that weren’t affected by the ban — China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia — were most responsible for the decline, rather than travel-ban countries like Iran and Libya, which still sent a small, but stable, number of students.
Both Clark and Ma said another drag on international enrollment is that officials overseas have become less interested in sponsoring students at U.S. universities.