This week marks the first full week of classes at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend.
There are about 1,200 students there now, and the university plans to eventually have 5,000 on campus. But that growth might take a while, if the state doesn’t come through with more funding.
Since OSU-Cascades is still such a young school, every fall term looks a little different here. Last year, there was the new academic building.
“The biggest difference [this fall] is the residence hall on our campus this year,” said OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson.
The dorms were finished last winter, but this is the first fall term with freshmen moving in.
“This year, they’re all here from the beginning,” Johnson said. “It really makes a difference. They’re living on campus.”
Administrators and staff are working hard to make sure new students get a full university experience, despite the small size of the current campus.
OSU-Cascades is currently made up of three buildings on 10 acres of land. The university plans to expand onto about 130 adjacent acres. OSU purchased a 46-acre former pumice mine for part of that expansion, and is working out a deal with Deschutes County to purchase an adjacent 76-acre landfill site. Both sites will require remediation and preparation before they’re ready to host dorms, classrooms and other buildings.
The university also wants to build a student experience center, and eventually create an innovation district where faculty, students and local businesses can work together. But those goals might take longer than expected after OSU-Cascades received a meager funding package from state lawmakers this year.
“We actually asked for $69.5 million,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “What we got was $9.5 million.”
That’s even less than the amount Gov. Kate Brown recommended. That $9.5 million is enough to prepare the pumice mine site for construction, but not enough to start another building.
“That was kind of a surprise and certainly a disappointment,” Ray said. “I mean, we don’t make frivolous requests.”
Some lawmakers point out that OSU overall fared well in the funding picture — the Corvallis campus received $38 million for renovations and a new building. But OSU administrators want the Legislature to consider OSU-Cascades separately, since it is a separate campus with somewhat different programs and offerings than Corvallis.
The low funding means new construction at OSU-Cascades is uncertain. This year’s enrollment is just over 1,100 students. The current campus has capacity for about 1,900.
“It wouldn’t take a lot of enrollment pressure to get us in trouble pretty fast,” Ray said.
In other words, all those beds in the new dorm could be filled up quickly.
Because of the way the Legislature funds public universities, there’s also a big lag between when campuses are promised money and when they actually get the bonds.
That’s a challenge for an expanding campus.
“When you get authorized your funds, you don’t get them until the end of the biennium,” Johnson said.
OSU-Cascades plans to go back to the Legislature during the special session this February and make a pitch for more funding. But if that doesn’t happen, new construction might be several years away.
“We will not be on pace to have a building in place by 2021 anymore,” Johnson said. “There are some stopgap measures you can use to try to increase your capacity. We could look at things like leasing buildings nearby and trying to convert them into classroom space.”
The university might also offer more evening or weekend classes. But OSU-Cascades is really trying to create a unified, campus feel here. And having students at a hodgepodge of rented classrooms isn’t as attractive as having a built-out campus.
For OSU-Cascades freshman Logan Wolfe, 2021 feels far off. If everything goes as planned, he’ll graduate that year. The 18-year-old has pine trees tattooed up and down his forearm. He just moved into the new dorms.
“[The dorms] are really nice actually, they’re super new,” Wolfe said. “I have my own bathroom so that’s cool.”
Wolfe likes the small feel of the current campus and is excited about his major: outdoor recreation and leadership.
“For my degree I get to take like, canoeing and whitewater kayaking as a class. That’s pretty cool,” Wolfe said. “I get credit for that. So I’m pretty excited about that.”
Wolfe is just the kind of freshman OSU-Cascades is hoping to attract more of — students who want the experience of a smaller campus with the many recreation and outdoor opportunities that Bend offers.
For many in central Oregon, OSU-Cascades graduates can’t come fast enough. There’s already a shortage of educated workers here. And as Bend continues to grow, the demand is only going to increase.
President Ray said if the Legislature approves more money next year, campus construction could still be on track.
“Then we could be on similar schedule to the one we would have been on in had it been approved this past session,” Ray said. “But if we don’t get it in February … then we really are talking about pushing it out.”
And that would mean OSU-Cascades would just have to grow more slowly.