BY LINDA BAKER
I received an email this week alerting me to two new academic scholarship programs for University of Oregon freshman starting in fall 2013. The Summit scholarship will provide eligible students with up to $20,000 over four years; the Apex Scholarship will provide up to $12,000 over four years. Qualifying students must meet minimum high school grade point averages and minimum scores on SAT or ACT tests.
As the mother of a senior applying to college, I was intrigued. Tuition and fees at the UO run about $9,300 a year; room and board, at least another $9,000. So the Summit scholarship would pay about a quarter of the cost of a four-year college education — not exactly small change.
So far, my son has expressed a strong preference for attending an out-of-state institution, mostly for the adventure of going somewhere different. Generally speaking, I approve of that attitude. And yet, in a time when tuition/room/board at an out of state public institution costs upwards of $40,000 annually — i.e. the University of Washington — my appetite for adventure is waning.
The goal of the new scholarships is to get more high-achieving Oregon students attending Oregon schools, said Michelle Holdway, UO’s associate director of financial aid. The scholarships certainly got me thinking — not just about sending my own son to an Oregon school, but whether rising tuition costs around the country are prompting a growing number of Oregon high school graduates to enroll in Oregon's relatively less expensive public universities.
Yes and no, it turns out. In the past few years, enrollment has soared in the Oregon University System, reaching a record 100,000 last fall, a 3 percent increase over fall 2010. (The fall 2012 head count won’t be in for a few more weeks).
That increase reflects growing numbers of resident and non-resident students, says Bob Tiernan, Oregon University System's assistant vice chancellor for research. In the past five years, resident enrollment has increased 10 percent, he said. Between 2010 and 2011, resident population increased 4.4 percent.
But if the absolute numbers of resident students are increasing, the number of freshmen actually declined last year by a small amount, Tiernan said. That decline was offset by an increasing number of community college transfers. The number of community college transfers has soared from about 3,600 in 2001 to about 7,000 today, he said.
Data compiled by the Oregon Department of Education from the National Student Clearinghouse College Enrollment File suggests that the total number of Oregon high school graduates (those enrolled in college) attending Oregon institutions is increasing, from 20,872 in 2005 to 21,182 in 2011. At the same time, the percentage of Oregon high school graduates attending in-state institutions is decreasing, albeit by a small percentage.
In 2005-06, 85.1% of Oregon high school graduates enrolled in college attended an Oregon institution. But in 2011, only 81.1% of those high school graduates stayed in state, a decline of about 4 percent.
The growing number of community college transfers suggests Oregon is doing a better job retaining existing students, an important benchmark given the state's ambitious 40-40-20 college graduation goals. And overall, resident enrollment is growing. Nevertheless, the ability to attract Oregon high school graduates is an important marker of quality and stability for Oregon higher ed.
One has only to look to California, where the system is imploding and thousands of students are fleeing to other states — including Oregon — as a result of skyrocketing tuition and enrollment caps.
In Oregon, the UO scholarships may be one step toward stemming high-school flight. According to Holdway, if the new UO scholarships existed for fall 2012, the university would have expected to spend approximately $2.7 million on Oregonians, although Holway said it is difficult to say exactly how many students will benefit when the programs go into effect next fall.
"We expect the scholarships to increase the interest that high achieving high school students will have in the University of Oregon," she said.
Who knows. Perhaps my son will become a Duck after all.
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.