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Big in a small way

Graphics by Andrew Greenstone | The Broadside
Graphics by Andrew Greenstone | The Broadside


In ten years, Oregon State University-Cascades wants to offer 40 degrees. They intend on reaching this goal by adding two to four degrees a year for the next ten years, according to Danny Cecchini, admissions advisor at OSU-Cascades.

Why so many degrees? OSU-Cascades is shooting for major growth, Cecchini said.

“We’re looking to have a school of 3,500 to 5,000 [students] by 2025, with 5,000 being our goal,” Cecchini said. “We’re at just over 1,000 right now.”

In order to reach that number, OSU-Cascades is going to need a 15 percent enrollment increase every year until 2025. At the same time, they do not want class size to significantly change, Cecchini said.

Why keep class sizes small when growth is the goal?

The average class size at OSU-Cascades is currently around 18 students, according to Dr. Marla Hacker, dean of academic programs at OSU-Cascades.

“We expect the majority of our classes will be in the 30 to 40 range,” Hacker said. “We’ll still be considered a very small university by class size.”

As much as small is good, classes too small can be one-dimensional, according to Hacker.

“We have a few classes that are 12 to 15 students,” Hacker said. “If a class is too small, you don’t get enough diversity of opinion and discussion.”

And though it looks big compared to Central Oregon Community College’s classes, a class of 30-40 is considered small in the university world, Hacker said.

To keep the classes small, the university will add programs every year instead of expanding class sizes. Cecchini feels that piece is crucial to keeping the OSU-Cascades experience intact.

“That small, personal feel, that personal touch, is something that sets us aside from other schools,” Cecchini said. “So instead of increasing class size, [we are] increasing class selection and still keeping that small personal feel that, I feel, is one of the best attributes at OSU-Cascades.”

When Hacker taught freshman classes at OSU in Corvallis, she taught classes of 200 three times a week and never met one of her students. Now, she knows professors who are teaching to classes of 350.

“We’re going to stick to the small model,” Hacker said. “It’s part of how we attract faculty. We say ‘do you want to teach to 40 or is 350 more your thing, and for some, 350 is their thing. But a lot of faculty who got into teaching got into it to work with students and make a meaningful impact.”

The “teacher-student connection” is, Hacker feels, a central part of OSU-Cascades.

“You get to know the students,” Hacker said. “Our teachers teach multiple different classes and some of their students are in more than one of their classes.”

And whereas at a large university a student may not know anyone in a certain class, students at OSU-Cascades will often see other students in multiple classes and develop “tight bonds” with them.

“These are the things that really make us stand out as unique,” Hacker said.

What new degrees are coming?

The university will start by adding freshman and sophomore years to the degrees already offered at OSU-Cascades, according to Rebecca Johnson, vice president of OSU-Cascades.

“Right now we offer majors that are general,” Johnson said. “As we grow, we want to break those into specialized programs. … Instead of just having general science, we have social science as well.”

For instance, the university currently offers a business degree with three options: general, international and hospitality management, according to Cecchini. As OSU-Cascades expands, instead of simply offering hospitality management options, they will offer a full degree. The hospitality management degree will potentially start next fall.

“There’s no program for [hospitality management] in Oregon,” Johnson said.

The uniqueness is one of the reasons hospitality management and other “niche” degrees are so important to OSU-Cascades, according to Cecchini.

“A degree that’s full on the east coast might not work [here],” Cecchini said. “We’re taking the time to see what works in Central Oregon.”

To this end, OSU-Cascades did their research on what degrees will work best in Central Oregon, and they went local asking how to shape those degrees.

“We built our degrees as a direct response to what the industry said they needed,” Johnson said. “We asked, ‘What workforce needs do you have?’”

But why all the research? Because OSU-Cascades wants to give students the option of staying in Bend, Cecchini said.

“Not only do we want to graduate students with dynamic degrees,” Cecchini said, “we want them to have the option of staying.”

One of the degrees developed under this process was computer science, Cecchini said.

“We went to the tech industry in Bend and said, ‘we’re starting a computer science degree,’” Cecchini said. “‘What are you looking for from a potential graduate with this degree?’”

This is how the university developed their computer science degree focusing on web and mobile web applications, Johnson said. The degree, which launched fall 2013, is unique to OSU-Cascades.

Next steps

Cecchini encourages students to call enrollment services at OSU-Cascades and ask about programs they’re interested in, because they could be in development or even on the way. Even if they’re not even on the horizon, Cecchini said, OSU-Cascades records and monitors requests about certain programs, so potential student interest could provide a catalyst for a degree program to be build.

“In a weird way, you could influence future programs the university offers,” Cecchini said.
Interested students can call enrollment services at (541) 322-3100.


Scott Greenstone
The Broadside




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