Largest ever first-year class includes 27% students of color

Oregon’s newest higher education institution continues to grow its student population at a rapid pace.

Oregon State University-Cascades’ student population swelled again this year, partly due to a 28% increase in first-year students from last year, according to the university.

Jane Reynolds, OSU-Cascades’ director of enrollment services and student success, said the university’s campus has been “enlivened” with its higher population and influx of young students.

“There’s more students in the dining center; the classes are fuller; there’s just more people on campus, so it’s livelier,” she said.

That largest ever first-year class for OSU-Cascades since it became a four-year university in 2015 — 145 students in total — also has more students of color than any other class in the university’s young history. First-year students arrived at the southwest Bend campus with higher high school grade point averages than the previous year, according to OSU-Cascades data.

Nearly 27% of OSU-Cascades’ first-year class this fall identify as students of color, compared to 17.5% of total OSU-Cascades students, according to the university. The campus is slightly more ethnically diverse than its surrounding city of Bend: 83.5% of the city’s residents identify as non-Hispanic white, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. More than 26% of total students on Oregon State University’s larger Corvallis campus identify as students of color, according to the university.

This fall, OSU-Cascades’ student government created the Student Equity Lounge, which serves as an accommodating, welcoming space for students of color, as well as students who identify as LGBTQ, students with disabilities and other under-represented groups on campus.

Reynolds said OSU-Cascades’ diversifying student body is a result of more students of color attending and graduating from local high schools.

“We expected to have a more diverse freshman class, and we’re seeing it,” she said.

The average unweighted high school GPA for OSU-Cascades’ first-year students also increased this year, from 3.46 to 3.49, according to the university. And 28% of first-year students came to OSU-Cascades with a high school GPA of 3.75 or higher.

More than 60% of OSU-Cascades’ first-year students earned college credit while in high school. Thirteen percent of those students have enough college credit to start at a sophomore or junior level, according to OSU-Cascades data.

As a whole, 1,311 students are enrolled in classes at OSU-Cascades, which is a 4.1% jump from the college’s student population in the fall of 2018. A large majority — 85% — are from Oregon. More than half are local, as 61% come from Central Oregon, according to the university. The remaining 15% non-Oregonian students come from 34 different states and nine foreign countries.

Reynolds said many factors contribute to non-Central Oregon students coming to OSU-Cascades, but one is the appeal of Bend.

“Most of our students were already familiar with Bend before they arrived,” she said. “Maybe they’ve come with their families on vacation … and that helps for us, in terms of recruiting students from out of the area.”

OSU-Cascades continues to enroll many generations of students: Its youngest student is 16 this fall, and its oldest is 79.

Nearly 30% of all undergraduates at OSU-Cascades are first-generation college students, compared to 22.8% at OSU’s Corvallis campus, according to university data.

The pipeline from Central Oregon Community College to OSU-Cascades remains popular for local students. Out of the 578 transfer students at OSU-Cascades, 62% previously attended Central Oregon Community College, according to OSU-Cascades data.

Article was originally published in The Bend Bulletin.