15% more freshmen, 3.4% more overall students this fall compared to 2022
Ashland.news staff report
Fall term enrollment at Southern Oregon University is showing a strong rebound, with the institution’s largest freshman class since 2018, the university announced Friday.
The number of new freshmen at SOU increased this fall by 15.1% compared to a year ago, while the number of incoming transfer students is up by 10.6%. Overall, the student headcount is 162 higher than that of last fall — a 3.4% gain to a total of 4,889. The increases among freshmen and transfers account for 84 and 30 students, respectively.
“These numbers tell me that prospective students and their families are hearing our message,” SOU President Rick Bailey said in a news release. “We offer remarkable academic and student experience opportunities in an environment that is second to none, with a heart-centered approach from faculty and staff who are unparalleled in their commitment to helping students achieve their educational goals. It’s a perfect recipe.
“Our scholarship and financial aid programs, and our dedicated admissions staff, bring our broad spectrum of educational programs within reach of all who wish to take this transformative, positive step.”
SOU enrollment declined by double-digit percentage points during the years following the COVID-19 pandemic and regional wildfires of September 2020. The university’s turnaround began with small increases in headcount for both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, and has picked up momentum with encouraging overall numbers this fall.
Headcount is expected to settle at a year-over-year increase of about 2% by the end of fall term, while full-time equivalent figures — a more accurate reflection of students’ total credit hours — is projected to end the term about 1% higher than those of fall 2022. That would mark the first uptick in full-time equivalent enrollment in several years.
Student retention plays a significant role in this fall’s positive enrollment picture. Last year’s freshman cohort returned this year at a rate of 66.3%, compared to 65.6% for the previous cohort, while total undergraduate retention is at 78% this fall, compared to 76.2% in 2022.
Another positive note comes from SOU’s Advanced Southern Credit, a dual-enrollment program with local high schools, which is showing an increase of about 7% this fall.
“Our university has faced recent obstacles that are common among public universities across the country, along with others that are particular to our state and even our region,” said Matt Stillman, SOU’s registrar and assistant vice president for enrollment management. “We have taken a leading role in adapting, innovating and getting back on track to serve our communities and prepare our students for purposeful, rewarding lives.”
SOU’s enrollment has been negatively affected in recent years by not only the pandemic and the southern Oregon wildfires of three years ago, but also by factors such as changing attitudes toward higher education and a long-anticipated national decline in the traditional, college-age demographic.
The university has responded with investments to modernize enrollment management efforts and increase its pool of prospective students, and with groundbreaking initiatives to establish intergovernmental agreements with school districts across the state of Oregon and transfer agreements with several community colleges in Oregon and California.
Under the intergovernmental agreements, school districts share their students’ basic directory information with SOU, which then promotes college attendance and provides timely enrollment guidance. The arrangement improves college access, especially among traditionally underserved students.