Saturday, May 18, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
While WOU's total enrollment fell slightly, new undergraduate numbers are up.
November 13, 2012
MONMOUTH -- Enrollment at Western Oregon University this fall is down slightly from last year, but still hovering around the 6,200 mark as it has since 2010.
Meanwhile, the numbers of new freshmen and international students at the Monmouth school have risen, as have transfers.
Collectively, the state's public colleges are at an all-time high for enrollment, with 101,393 students, according to figures released by the Oregon University System last week.
"A lot of credit is due to all of the faculty and staff at our public universities for continuing to serve more students in the classroom and with support services that keep them in college in some very difficult budget times," said George Pernsteiner, OUS chancellor.
Growth has slowed, though, and four of the state's eight public institutions saw enrollment fall. Western had a headcount of 6,187 students, down 30 from 2011 and 46 from 2010.
"There's a number of reasons," said David McDonald, WOU associate provost. "The demographic of Oregon is that there isn't growth in the number of high school graduates; we've plateaued there.
"The state continues to have a lingering recession and with limited funds for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, students are having a harder time paying for college."
Western has the capacity for more students -- between 7,000 and 7,500 -- with its current residential and instructional buildings, McDonald said.
"We certainly want to grow, but at a reasonable level on an annual basis," he said. "We're going to continue to pursue higher numbers, but while making sure we don't compromise the things that have made WOU strong, such as small class sizes."
A positive point has been retention -- WOU's retention rate between freshmen and sophomore students is at 70 percent, 2 percentage points higher than fall of 2011.
While high school graduation in Oregon may be flat, the university has seen incoming students arrive better academically prepared than in the past; the number of incoming freshmen, for example, who qualified for upper division courses is up 11 percent this year.
"The number of students placing in 300-level courses is higher than ever before," McDonald said.
Western didn't have data concerning enrollment by academic discipline by press time. Anecdotally, the numbers in some programs are a reflection of what's happening with the economy, McDonald said.
"We are seeing a slight decrease in the number of students pursuing education degrees," he said. "We're seeing continued growth in the sciences, and business and psychology continue to be strong."
Science offerings may get a boost and more students in 2013, when Western's $9.7 million DeVolder Family Science Center opens.
"It supports logical expansion of some programs," McDonald said. "Our chemistry department is looking at expanding our forensic chemistry program."
Statewide, international student enrollment grew by almost 18 percent to 7,543. Western's international student population rose by 12 students to 286.
Financially, that demographic has been key during the economic downturn as students from abroad pay three times the amount of in-state tuition as a resident undergraduate.