CORVALLIS, Ore. - The largest incoming group of new students in Oregon State University history is expected to boost the university's enrollment this fall term close to 24,000 - and an estimated 70 percent of those newcomers are from the state of Oregon.

The university's efforts to keep high-achieving students from Oregon high schools in-state are paying off, OSU officials noted. More than 140 of the new undergraduate students are ranked No. 1 in their high school graduating class, and these valedictorians come from 38 percent of all Oregon high schools.

"One of our goals is to bring the state's best and brightest students to Oregon State University and then provide them with an exceptional learning environment," said OSU President Edward J. Ray. "It is gratifying to see such a high percentage of valedictorians stay within the state's borders."

For the second year in a row, a survey by The Oregonian newspaper of high-achieving Portland students showed that the highest number, by far, had targeted OSU as their school of choice. In fact, more than twice as many picked Oregon State as any other institution.

Official fall term enrollment numbers will be released by the Oregon University System by mid-November, after assessment of numbers at the end of the fourth week of classes. Universities, however, can make fairly accurate predictions based on admission applications, class registration and tuition deposits.

Kate Peterson, OSU's assistant provost for enrollment management, said the university will "easily surpass" last year's previous record enrollment of 21,969 students.

"We should be between 23,500 and 24,000 students," she estimated.

Such an enrollment is a remarkable turnaround in just 15 years. OSU's enrollment had plummeted from a high of about 18,000 students in the early 1980s to 13,784 in 1996. The university implemented a series of initiatives aimed at recruitment and retention of students, and creating a better learning environment on campus, Peterson said.

Student support services also have grown and in 2008, OSU launched its Bridge to Success program, which combines federal, state and university funds to help many qualified Oregon students attend the university free of charge. This fall, as many as 2,600 Oregon students will attend OSU through the Bridge to Success program.

OSU's first university-wide fund-raising initiative, The Campaign for OSU, has raised $100 million for student scholarships, further easing the costs for many students.

Despite the rapid growth, OSU is ready for its record enrollment, said Sabah Randhawa, the university's provost and executive vice president. "The university has renovated classrooms, added core faculty, and expanded course sections and laboratory availability," Randhawa pointed out.

An estimated 5,930 new students will arrive on campus this fall. More than 4,100 of them are from Oregon, representing all 36 of the state's counties. The top five majors declared by these incoming students are pre-business, exploratory studies, biology, exercise and sport science, and pre-engineering.

More than 20 percent of the newcomers are students of color, reflecting both the university's success in recruiting under-represented populations and changes in federal reporting standards, Peterson said.

"It is safe to say that OSU is diversifying its student body," she said.

The estimated 24,000 students for fall term represent only the Corvallis campus, university officials point out. The OSU-Cascades Campus in Bend, the state's first branch campus, is also expecting record enrollment.

Classes at OSU begin on Monday, Sept. 27.

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Kate Peterson, 541-737-0759