Overall enrollment at Oregon public colleges, universities down this fall

Many public colleges and universities in Oregon have fewer students this fall than they did last year, according to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission. For some institutions, the decline in enrollments is an ongoing trend that is only being exacerbated by the pandemic.

“If you combine all of our public institutions, community colleges and universities — and look at student numbers — fall enrollment is down 1.2% year over year,” HECC executive director Ben Cannon said at a board meeting on Thursday.

Cannon said this was due to an overall decline in community college enrollments of 3.6% statewide and a slight increase in public university enrollments of just under 1% overall.

Cannon said enrollment rates across the state’s institutions are uneven. While some have seen enrollments increase or stabilize, others continue to see declines.

HECC has yet to release detailed enrollment numbers for the state’s public bodies, but Cannon said that would likely happen early next week.

Some universities released details of their own fall semester enrollment ahead of the HECC summary.

Oregon State University announced Thursday that it broke an enrollment record with more than 35,000 students enrolled this fall semester. That’s more than 3% more registrations than last fall.

The university says its primary source of enrollment growth is online students enrolled through its ecampus, which saw a nearly 6% increase in enrollments this fall, compared to a 1% increase in enrollments at the main campus in Corvallis .

According to HECC data, OSU is the only public college in the state that hasn’t seen a drop in enrollment over the course of the pandemic.

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“Record enrollments among black and freshman students, as well as increasing numbers of nonresident students, are evidence that the state of Oregon is increasingly recognized as a destination for inclusive and excellent education,” OSU President Jayathi Murthy said in a statement Thursday .

The University of Oregon announced a few months ago that this fall it will welcome the largest incoming class in the university’s history. The university has not yet released its final enrollment numbers for the semester.

At the other end of the spectrum, other institutions continue to see enrollment declines.

File photo of the Portland State University campus as seen in July 2021.

File photo of the Portland State University campus as seen in July 2021.

Hanin Najjar / OPB

At a board meeting last month, Portland State University officials announced that the university has continued to see declining enrollments this school year. Fall enrollment has already declined nearly 11% from 2019 to 2021, according to previous HECC data.

In documents from a PSU Finance and Administration Committee meeting Thursday, the university went into more detail about its enrollment prospects.

According to those documents, the number of Portland Community College students transferring to PSU has decreased by 27% since last year.

At the board meeting, PSU board chairman Greg Hinckley noted that about half of the university’s students were transferring from community colleges, particularly PCC.

Portland Community College has not yet released its final enrollment for the fall semester, but according to data at the start of the semester, the college had 7% fewer students enrolled than at the same time last year.

PCC saw the largest drop in enrollment of any community college in the state from 2019 through last fall — a drop of about 23%.

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Overall, fewer Oregon high school grads have recently chosen to enroll in college, according to HECC data.

HECC officials said Oregon High School graduates in the class of 2020 had 7% fewer enrollments at a US college within 16 months of graduation compared to the prior year.

Amy Cox, director of HECC’s Office of Research and Data, said the drop may have been due to students deferring college during the first year of the pandemic. But it won’t be clear until another year of data becomes available.

“This rate of decline is quite dramatic,” said Cox. “We’re hoping some of that will pick up again at the rate next year, but time will tell.” This is also happening in parallel with falling enrollments…especially at adult education centers.”