ASHLAND — Benefiting from a nearby community college, a bad economy and Californians seeking lower tuition, Southern Oregon University posted the highest spring term head count in its history — 5,383 students.
The count, which includes all students, even if they're taking one class, is a 2.7 percent increase over spring a year ago.
The university reported a 4.1 percent jump in full-time equivalent enrollment compared to spring last year, for an FTE of 3,938. This is the highest FTE since 2003.
SOU posted higher attendance in winter term than in spring. A decline typically happens in spring, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs, because high school students attend college-credit classes in greater numbers in winter, and because many students finish degree work in winter and then graduate in June.
"We had strong enrollment in the fall and have maintained it through the year," said Eldridge. "It appears enrollment is going to continue to grow. It's a factor of new programs, the bad economy and we're doing better at retaining students through better advising, removing barriers to registering, doing more online with service and coursework and paying closer attention to at-risk students."
SOU experienced a "significant" increase in Californians, both freshman and transfer students, for a total of 585 Californians, he noted, with a similar rise in Oregon students, especially transfers.
"Students are finishing at Rogue Community College more. It's the leader for us, with more also from Umpqua Community College and Southwestern Oregon Community College, because of our expanded articulation agreements with them," he said, thus allowing for easy course transfer.
The school reported 35 new freshmen, 87 new transfer students and 160 total new students, all categories being the largest for spring term since 2003. SOU, in partnership with RCC, now offers all upper-division Early Childhood Development courses online, said President Mary Cullinan.
Enrollment is boosted by the tripling of online courses, she said, as well as new programs, including bachelor's degrees in Applied Science in Management and Outdoor Leadership, and new minors in Musical Theater, Acting for Film and Arts Management.
This fall, SOU will introduce a professional master's program in Computer Science and is building programs in Digital Arts and Media and in Environmental Science.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.