BEND, Ore. - Classes begin Monday (Sept. 19) at the OSU-Cascades Campus in Bend, and campus administrators are conservatively forecasting growth of about 8 percent over last year's enrollment of 438 students.

The swell, they say, is already creating a space squeeze at the state's first branch campus.

"It's a nice problem to have," said Jay Casbon, campus executive officer for Oregon State University's Bend branch. "The interest by students has been steady, and it is starting to broaden as we add new programs and faculty. But we are feeling the pinch. Classrooms are full, office space is limited, and as we continue to build funding support, we'll need room to grow."

During the next six months, Casbon and OSU administrators will submit a plan to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski outlining their vision for a four-year university in Bend. One possibility will be to locate the campus in the much-discussed Juniper Ridge development north of town, adjacent to a proposed research park. The City of Bend has offered 150 acres for development of a campus.

"We are open and supportive of Juniper Ridge," Casbon said, "but it would be premature to say that is the direction we're going. There are a number of hurdles that still must be cleared."

Whether a future four-year university will be private, public or a combination of the two is unclear, Casbon said. But, he added emphatically, OSU will continue to have a presence in Central Oregon. And other universities may as well.

OSU just signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with the University of Oregon to jointly offer programming under the OSU-Cascades Campus umbrella.

"We have a new spirit of cooperation that is focusing on using the strengths of each institution to offer complementary, not competing, courses," Casbon said.

Last year, the OSU-Cascades Campus enrolled 438 upper division and graduate students, and another 133 were in the pipeline through a dual enrollment program with Central Oregon Community College. Just one week before fall 2004 classes began, however, enrollment projections were flat, said Jane Reynolds, director of enrollment services for OSU-Cascades.

"Then in the last week, it just exploded," Reynolds said, "and we ended up with a 17 percent increase. So our projections for an 8 percent gain this year may be a bit conservative."

Reynolds said first-time freshmen applications to the dual enrollment program are up about 18 percent, and out-of-state applications have risen 195 percent - from just 20 last year, to 59 in 2005. That may be an indication of a slowly changing student profile, she said.

"It's too early to set this in stone, but I think we're beginning to see a shift toward a more traditionally aged group of students," Reynolds said. "Our students are starting to come from outside of the region, and they seem to be getting younger."

Carolyn Platt, director of advancement for OSU-Cascades, thinks the new signature programs offered by the branch campus may be part of the reason.

"There is a lot of buzz about our Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Tourism program, which is one of the few of its kind in the country," Platt said. "The director of that program, Kreg Lindburgh, is known internationally, and his hiring has generated a lot of interest in the program. We're also developing a new master's degree in teaching and expanding business to focus on mid- and upper-level management and entrepreneurship."

The growth of the OSU-Cascades Campus mirrors that of the central Oregon region, according to Casbon. On a recent episode of CNN's Larry King Live, Bend was touted as a great place in which to invest by business titan Donald Trump. The city is on pace to double in population in just 15 years. And it ranks eighth in the nation in entrepreneurs per capita.

"The growth in Bend - and all of Central Oregon - has been phenomenal," Casbon said, "and it doesn't show signs of letting up. We are growing right along with the region and we must continue to offer the programs and degrees that are important to Central Oregon."

Casbon said he hopes to continue increasing the ranks of faculty at the campus and raising private support for OSU-Cascades. A private foundation for the campus was just established.

"One of the things I'd really like to see is the creation of endowed faculty positions," Casbon said. "That would help connect us to the community, emphasize programs that matter and offer some budget relief because we could use the salary savings to hire additional faculty."

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Jay Casbon, 541-322-3101