PORTLAND, Oregon — Enrollment at Oregon's seven public universities has leveled off after years of sharp increases during and after the Great Recession.
The Oregon University System said Thursday that 103,074 students enrolled for the fall term. That's a record, but it represents an increase of less than 2 percent from last fall. Enrollment gains of more than 5 percent were the norm from 2008 until 2010, and a 3.5 percent jump followed in 2011.
University officials said the small increases of 2012 and 2013 were expected because large graduating classes have been moving through the system, and a less-bleak jobs picture has meant fewer students queuing up to replace them. Large tuition increases have also kept some students away from higher education, or sent them to community colleges.
"There are a number of factors and trends reflected in these results, including a post-recession return to work, continued strains on student and family finances particularly in Oregon's rural areas, and the need for more student access to pre-college preparation programs," said Melody Rose, interim chancellor of the university system.
Most of this year's increase was at Oregon State University, where enrollment increased by 1,532 students, or 5.8 percent. The state's other large schools — the University of Oregon and Portland State University — saw basically no change from 2012. Portland State remains Oregon's largest university with an enrollment of 28,766 students; however, its edge over Oregon State has shrunk to less than 900 students.
Among smaller universities, enrollment fell 5 percent at Southern Oregon and 1.2 percent at Eastern Oregon. On the flip side, Oregon Tech's enrollment jumped 10 percent, largely driven by increases in part-time and transfer students.
One area of robust growth was a 15 percent jump in the number of international students, mostly from China. Officials have sought such students because they pay much higher tuition (generally double or triple what Oregon residents spend) and bring a global flavor to campuses that might help local kids later compete in the world marketplace.
"This actually is a great time for Oregon to be recruiting internationally because a lot of the countries are getting more folks to the high school age and they don't necessarily have as many college seats," said Bob Kieran, OUS vice chancellor of institutional research and planning.
"Even just a little bit of recruiting has, I believe, worked out pretty well."