Susan Parrish
The La Grande Observer

Last week Eastern Oregon University announced fall enrollment numbers, and on the surface it’s not great news. According to EOU, since fall 2012, enrollment has declined by 28.3 percent. But it’s not as bad as it looks.

Eastern’s total student count this October was 3,016, 5 percent less than last fall, with a full-time equivalent of 2,152 (enrollment can also be measured as FTE students, a calculation showing how many students would be attending if all were enrolled full-time). During fall quarter, 327 new freshmen and 439 transfer students enrolled at EOU. Both credit hours and full-time equivalents have decreased by 3 percent over the past year.

Among Oregon’s state universities, EOU had the highest decline in total enrollment from fall 2012 to fall 2016. In that four-year period, EOU’s total enrollment declined by 24.5 percent; Western Oregon University, by 13 percent; Southern Oregon University, by 6 percent; and University of Oregon, by 3.89 percent. Bucking the trend, Portland State University’s total enrollment increased by 10 percent and Oregon State University’s increased by 15 percent during that same period.

But the tide of shrinking enrollment seems to be slowing at EOU. Total enrollment in fall 2016 decreased by almost 9 percent over the previous year, higher than this fall’s enrollment decrease of 5 percent compared to last year.

“The decline has slowed dramatically,” said Vice President for University Advancement Tim Seydel. “(To compare), we had a 12.1 percent (total enrollment) decrease in 2014.”

National trend

EOU’s decreasing enrollment is not an anomaly. Nationwide, the number of students enrolled in college has declined every year over the past five years, according to Seydel.

“There is a national trend overall of fewer students attending college in the last five years,” Seydel said. “Especially with small and midsize colleges and universities, there are challenges around decreasing enrollments as students find either jobs in the marketplace or other opportunities to pursue work, and choose perhaps to take a different route than go to college.”

See complete story in Friday's Observer