Enrollment at SOU rises 5.1 percent

Southern Oregon University's enrollment jumped by 5.1 percent this fall, climbing back above 5,000 students after five years of declines.

According to the Oregon University System, SOU's fall enrollment count is 5,082, compared with 4,836 in the fall of 2007.

SOU officials attributed the growth primarily to increases in state financial aid and efforts to improve student performance and retention at the school.

"The (state) Legislature invested in higher education this past biennium, both in terms of financial support for students and support to allow us to better market, recruit and retain students," said Jonathan Eldridge, SOU vice president for student affairs.

SOU's Hispanic enrollment grew by 15 percent, making SOU more diverse than ever, Eldridge said.

"This is a testament to the welcoming, inclusive and vibrant community at SOU," he said.

Some of the strongest gains in enrollment came in the business department, in part because of this fall's opening of the Higher Education Center in downtown Medford, where more business classes are offered.

The $22.2 million center is a joint operation of SOU and Rogue Community College and about 3,000 students attend classes there.

SOU's enrollment surge was comparable to statewide growth in the Oregon University System. OUS includes SOU and seven other public universities.

The statewide enrollment of 86,546 represented all-time highs everywhere except at SOU, although SOU's increases signaled "a solid turnaround for the campus," officials said in a news release. SOU's enrollment peaked in 1999 when there were 5,751 students.

The largest increase was at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, where enrollment swelled by 6.8 percent. The smallest was at Oregon State University in Corvallis, where enrollment moved up by 2.9 percent.

Higher education Chancellor George Pernsteiner also credited college funding increases approved for 2007-09 by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the state Legislature for helping to boost enrollment statewide.

The number of students who received state aid has nearly doubled this year.

SOU, which was faced with deep cuts last year in part because of enrollment declines, has been working diligently to turn its fortunes around.

Specific measures included creating more resources for struggling pupils and making transfers from regional two-year institutions such as RCC less cumbersome, including making credit transferable, Eldridge said. Seeking to increase student-faculty interactions, the university also has staffed its college fair with faculty members and arranged meetings between freshmen and faculty to discuss goals, interests, classes and what it takes to graduate.

Incoming freshmen also receive tutorials on how to navigate all the university's online systems. School officials said that is intended to reduce frustration with the systems and improve retention in the freshmen class, which typically has the largest dropout rate.

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