News

The Oregonian: Oregon's public universities see big increases in Hispanic, multi-racial student enrollment
Author: Andrew Theen, The Oregonian
Posted: November 30, 2016

Read the original story in The Oregonian.

The number of Latino and multi-racial students at Oregon's public universities is more than double what it was seven years ago, according to an analysis of enrollment records by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Though Oregon's public universities collectively saw enrollment rise roughly 5 percent from 2010 to 2016, the lion's share of that growth was fueled by significant increases in the number of minority students on campus. Those gains, particularly among Latino and multi-racial students, held through this academic year, even as all but two campuses posted slight declines in overall enrollment.

The change at Oregon's public universities is a reflection of the state's shifting demographics; the number of Latinos here has surged 72 percent since 2000 and now account for 12 percent of the state's total population.  But it also shows that state schools have a long way to go in bringing more students of color to campus.

According to state records, 21 percent of high school seniors in 2015-16 were Hispanic or Latino while just 9.8 percent of public college students today match that description.

"The trend is very much in the right direction," Ben Cannon, executive director of Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said of the increasingly diverse campuses.

"We are closing those gaps, but a gap still exists," Cannon added.

Oregon has tried to sweeten the pot for universities in recent years by distributing an increasing amount of state operating support to schools that enroll students of color or those from low-income households.

Cannon said he'd like to see more analysis of student demographics broken down by in-state and out-of-state students. He said he doesn't believe the doubling of the Latino population came by schools recruiting out of state. "I don't think that's the case," he said, "[but], we'd want to know that."

The state's data are incomplete, as 5 percent of enrolled students this fall declined to identify a race or ethnic group. That number is skewed by the more than 1,755 Southern Oregon University students who declined to identify a race or ethnic group, a figure which accounted for more than 35 percent of the statewide figure.

Other highlights of the analysis:

-       The black student population remains stubbornly low, with just Oregon State and Western Oregon University's black student population rate cracking 3 percent. That's slightly higher, though, than the 2015-16 figures for black high school seniors.

-       The total number of Oregon college students who come from another country also grew dramatically from 2010 to 2016, with more than 3,700 new international students added. Schools like the University of Oregon, where more than 13 percent of the students are international, increasingly look to foreign learners as a way to bring in more tuition revenue.

-       The data show overall white student enrollment dropped some 8 percentage points statewide during the same time period. Today, white students account for 61 percent of public college students.

The demographic trends come as several schools celebrate what they are calling the most diverse incoming freshman class in history.

Portland State University President Wim Wiewel said the increase in the Latino population on campus was by design. "We have worked hard to both recruit and support not only Latino students but other underrepresented populations in Oregon," he said in a news release.

PSU hired more bilingual and multicultural admissions counselors in recent years and has five cultural resource centers on campus.

Oregon State also has a number of cultural centers on campus and has the largest population of students who identify themselves as being two or more races.

The University of Oregon also saw dramatic increases in its Latino population. Roger Thompson, vice president of student services and enrollment management, said the Eugene school has been deliberate and proactive in its recruitment efforts.

For the past five or six years, the school has sponsored community events and bought advertising on Univision, the American Spanish-language television network.

The legwork is paying dividends, Thompson said. "Student recruitment is about community with students and families, it's also about really becoming a fabric of our community."

Thompson said growing the international student population is important to UO because it helps prepare all students for working in a "21st century global economy."

He added that the number of Oregon students graduating from high school is shrinking, and the school needs to continue to make sure the best qualified state students are able to get into UO going forward.

As for growing diversity, Thompson said that won't stop. "There's always more work to do."


-- Andrew Theen
atheen@oregonian.com
503-294-4026
@andrewtheen