Southern Oregon University is going through some tough times at the moment, with a budget-cutting retrenchment plan slicing off low-enrollment majors and minors and eliminating faculty positions. Those moves have not been popular with some staff and students, but the university is clearly doing something right.
We say that because the fall 2015 enrollment numbers turned out surprisingly strong.
The retrenchment had been predicted to hurt enrollment, with overall numbers declining. Instead, total enrollment rose slightly, a 0.2 percent increase. More encouraging was the number for the new freshman class, which is up 17 percent over last year. It's the the biggest entering class since 2003 and the second largest in 20 years.
Even more encouraging than the new entrants are the retention figures. SOU has been making a concerted effort to keep students from leaving before completing a degree, and that work is paying off. Of the 2014 freshman class, 72 percent returned this fall, a slight dip from last year's number but still well above the 66 percent to 68 percent level of the previous several years. Retention was 76 percent for the entire student body.
Another bright spot in the fall numbers is the 7.4 percent increase in out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition than Oregon residents, which is good for the university's budget.
Even with regular tuition increases, SOU remains the second most affordable of Oregon's seven universities. That, combined with Ashland's quality of life and a strong academic program, should serve the campus well.