The number of students at Southern Oregon University this fall dropped from the previous year's headcount for the first time since 2005, according to figures released by the Oregon University System Thursday.
The university didn't attract as many Hispanic students, community college transfers or incoming freshman compared with the past few years, but enjoyed another increase of new California students, said James Klein, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
The university has 6,481 students enrolled compared with last fall's 6,744, Klein said.
The 3.9 percent drop-off was the largest of any school in the Oregon University System, which saw a 1,077-student increase overall across its eight universities, which total 101,393 enrolled students.
SOU's full-time equivalent numbers, a standard measure based on credits earned that accounts for full- and part-time students, fell 2.2 percent, to 4,573 this fall from 4,678 a year ago.
Hispanic student enrollment, which sky-rocketed 82 percent in the last two year, fell by less than 1 percent compared with this time last year, and transfer students from community colleges and other universities dropped 19.2 percent compared with last fall's student population, Klein said.
"Hopefully it's because people are getting back into the job market," he said of the drop in transfer students.
Klein said, it's unclear why Hispanic student enrollment didn't match increases SOU experienced at the beginning of the last two academic years.
The university can only speculate why fall enrollment didn't increase for the seventh consecutive year, Klein said, but he didn't attribute the decline to this year's 9.9 percent tuition hike. SOU students are paying $102, or 4.2 percent, more per term this year for 15 credits, accounting for reductions in student fees.
Klein said a recent change to eligibility for the Pell Grant also may have contributed to the decline in enrollment. Last fall, students were eligible to receive the Pell Grant for 18 semesters, that has been shortened to 12 semesters in an effort by Congress to save money.
The university enrolled 10.3 percent fewer incoming freshman, and 13.8 percent fewer graduate students compared to the previous fall term, but saw a 4.4 increase in students from California. Last fall, California-student enrollment was up 15 percent. California students make up about 15 percent of the student population at SOU, Klein said, which is a record. The university's student population has swelled 40 percent over the past four years, enrollment reports show.
"That's really unprecedented growth. "… It's kind of nice to catch a breath," Klein said. "It's been really challenging to staff up, and find faculty, and get all of the support services that have to grow."
During fall term 2010, SOU saw a 26.2 percent enrollment increase over the prior year's fall term.
Compared with this time last year, Portland State University reported 227 fewer students; Eastern Oregon University reported 90 fewer students and Western Oregon University reported 30 fewer students.
All other OUS institutions reported slight gains in student population.
Oregon State University saw the largest jump, reporting 1,416 more students. University of Oregon gained the second most students, with a 144-student increase.
"Overall, we're happy with where our enrollment is at," Klein said.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.