LA GRANDE — On par with national trends — which saw more than 350,000 students enroll in online courses in 2017, according to the National Center for Data Statistics — online enrollment at Eastern Oregon University is on the rise.

A press release from the La Grande-based university said that the school’s online undergraduate student headcount is up 7% this fall from last year. In total, the university currently has 3,067 total undergraduates and nearly 1,250 of those are studying online or off-campus.

“We pride ourselves on being a university of access, and online classes we see as an equity issue. A lot of people are geographically left out if they’re not near a university,” said David Vande Pol, executive director of regional outreach and innovation.

The university said that by 2029, it hopes to enroll 5,000 full-time equivalent students online and 2,500 on campus.

But while overall headcount from last year is up 3%, that full-time equivalent number has decreased by 38 students from this time last year. It currently sits at 2,133.

Vande Pol and Vice President for University Advancement Tim Seydel both think this has to do with a rise in the number of working students.

“In the online vertical of potential students, the vast majority are working adults,” Vande Pol said. “When they’re ready to go back to school, they’re shopping.”

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently released a data report that showed 36 million adults in the United States have received some college credit, but never completed school.

That group is a target in a new era of recruitment, which involves increasing outreach to students interested in EOU’s 17 undergraduate and two graduate online degree programs, Vande Pol said.

“We’re absolutely committed to increasing that number of programs,” he said.

The university hired an online recruiter last year, and is using a data-focused approach to reach as many potential pupils as possible, Vande Pol said.

The university also saw an uptick in returning students, up to 77% from a previous high of 72% in 2016. The freshman cohort is also “slightly larger” than last year’s, according to school. Nearly 90% of those students, who are Oregon residents, graduated from rural high schools.

Seydel anticipates that the addition of baseball and women’s lacrosse programs, which are expected to start competing in spring 2021, could spark regional interest and boost enrollment.

“Adding sports, isn’t just about adding sports,” Seydel said. “It provides scholarship opportunities and adds more activity to campus.”

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