OSU Cascades designs students’ first two years

By Tyler Leeds The Bulletin
Published Apr 13, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Apr 13, 2014 at 05:15AM

Graduation requirements

The following courses are required to complete the OSU baccalaureate core in Corvallis.

Skill Courses

Writing I

Mathematics (with options)

Speech (with options)

Writing II (with options)

Perspectives Courses

One or two classes in each category:

Biology lecture and lab

Cultural Diversity

Literature and the Arts

Physical Science lecture and lab

Social Processes and Institutions

Western Culture

Difference, Power, and Discrimination

As Oregon State University-Cascades Campus attempts to recruit its first freshman class for a 2015 debut as a four-year university, the school faces the challenge of differentiating itself from a cheaper local option and larger, storied home campus in Corvallis.

OSU-Cascades currently enrolls only juniors and seniors, most of whom transfer from Central Oregon Community College after completing a set of general requirements and electives that can eventually count toward a university degree. Students who take this path, known as the “two plus two” program, are able to spend $87 per credit their first two years at COCC, before swallowing the university rate, which is about $100 more per credit. OSU-Cascades now finds itself facing two questions. First, how do you convince someone to come to OSU-Cascades for four years when a cheaper option is available with a better view from Awbrey Butte? Second, for those willing to pay more, how do you convince them to come to Bend instead of Corvallis, where there will be more majors, professors and football games?

Classes and community

Natalie Dollar, an associate dean with a portfolio that includes research within the Deadhead community, is leading the development of the freshman and sophomore curriculum, which will be based on the “baccalaureate core” offered to underclassman in Corvallis.

The baccalaureate core includes requirements in two broad domains — skills and perspectives. For skills, students must take courses in writing, math, speech and fitness, while perspectives requires students to take courses under various topics related to the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences.

“We will use the model in Corvallis, but what we won’t do is offer the same breadth of courses,” Dollar said. To satisfy their students, Dollar said the university will research what courses are popular in Corvallis among students enrolled in majors also offered in Bend.

“We’re looking for the least common denominator, to use an analogy,” Dollar said.

Whereas a student in Corvallis may be able to choose from around 50 courses to meet the cultural diversity requirement in the perspectives domain, at OSU-Cascades, the student may have one different option each term in Bend, for a total of three cultural diversity classes in a given year.

“It’s about finding that sweet spot, which is when we offer enough options to meet the needs of our various majors yet our options aren’t so broad that we have three people in each class,” Dollar said.

While students will have less variety in their classes, they will likely have more among their classmates. In Corvallis, students progress through the baccalaureate core in cohorts, which are often composed of students from the same major. With only 1,900 students planned for the first phase of OSU-Cascades’ expansion, students will be in classes with those from other majors.

While Dollar touts the benefits of this integration, what really excites her is the potential to use those first two years as a way to build connections among students, professors and the community.

“Right now, our capacity is limited because students don’t come to us until their junior year, when they’re eager to get out,” Dollar said. “Boy, there’s so much we can do once we start with freshmen. We’ll have four years to build relationships with students, and faculty can get to know them better, find them better internships. We can also develop a culture where students give back the first day they step foot on campus. We can create a campus culture that is about more than just the campus.”

Dollar anticipates baccalaureate core coursework being integrated into off-campus activities. As an example, she suggested writing exercises based on a student’s experience volunteering at the Bethlehem Inn, a homeless shelter in Bend.

“We want students to be connected and embedded beginning their first year here,” Dollar said. Dollar added she spent enough time working in Corvallis to realize the history of troubled town-gown partnerships had made future cooperation difficult.

“We can start in a different place here, and I think that’s really important,” she said.

Cost and reward

COCC Vice President for Instruction Charles Abasa-Nyarko was diplomatic when discussing the expansion of OSU-Cascades into a four-year school, pointing out that the change will bring benefits and change to both schools. Nonetheless, he did note that when students compare the two options, “They will see our lower tuition and wider array of courses, as well as the ability to take courses in the morning, afternoon or night. Our classes will still be smaller, too.”

Nonetheless, both schools acknowledge the growth of OSU-Cascades will likely lead to more students enrolling at both schools, as more options at OSU-Cascades probably will draw more students to two plus two.

“I’m not sure it’s my job to convince students to come here over COCC,” Dollar said. “I believe this, and this is just me speaking, but we have found that there are certain majors that students and their families feel they need every credit to come from a university if they hope to move on. Whether this is true or not, it’s a perception students have, and that drives them to our doors.”

Dollar noted that this is especially true among students in the sciences who want to go on to postgraduate study, noting the example of a family who was worried their child couldn’t get in to veterinary school with community college courses on their transcript.

OSU-Cascades Director of Enrollment Services Jane Reynolds, who noted the university currently has smaller classes than COCC, said this perception is false, saying students have gone from COCC to OSU-Cascades and onto OSU’s veterinary school and medical school at the Oregon Health & Science University.

So in reality, what will set the two schools apart? Abasa-Nyarko said the “quality of education you receive at COCC is the same as at OSU,” noting that many of the courses OSU-Cascades will offer will have the same course numbers as those at COCC.

Both Reynolds and Dollar praised the quality of instruction at COCC, but they did point out differences.

“I think the character of what happens at a university is different than at a community college,” Reynolds said. “It will be a strong concentration of a certain kind of students, where at COCC you have a much broader spectrum of students. We will have a real emphasis on engagement of students, not only in the classroom but outside of it. We will focus on the community of students.”

Dollar said students at OSU-Cascades will have more options to perform research with tenure-track faculty actively engaged in their field. She also said the university is considering setting up a model that encourages faculty, especially those in the sciences, to incorporate undergraduates into their research activities.

“No decisions have been made, but that may be one way to create something unique in our sciences that Corvallis cannot offer, because their labs are full of graduate students,” Dollar said. “If Corvallis is looking for a place to send smart undergraduates who want to do research, we could provide that space here.”

Nonetheless, Dollar said the goal is not to recruit students away from COCC who would be better served financially by the two-plus-two model.

“I think what matters is for a student to talk with their family about what makes sense for them and what they want,” she said. “Our goal is to fill in a gap that exists, and to offer students who want the four-year option in Central Oregon that opportunity.”

As for competition with OSU in Corvallis and other universities, Dollar held up the university’s small size as a great strength.

“If you have a problem, you can come into the chemistry department and they will know you and can help you,” Dollar said. “It’s very different at bigger schools.”

‘Scrape it together’

Courses require teachers, and currently OSU-Cascades has no freshman or sophomore courses, leaving the question of who will teach.

Complicating the hiring process is the threat of a delay in construction of the university’s new campus.

“My understanding currently is that we are going four-year in 2015 no matter what,” Dollar said. “If we encounter setbacks with building, then we’re going to have to scrape it together. We may not be able to offer the breadth we want, and we will have to renegotiate for our space at Cascades Hall (on the COCC campus), but I think it will be possible.”

Dollar said the plan is to recruit a mix of tenure-track faculty, who will conduct research, and instructors, who are not paid to conduct research, to teach in the baccalaureate core. Additionally, Dollar said current faculty are willing and interested in teaching underclassmen, which is not always the case at other universities.

“In my division, the faculty has come forth and said they want to teach these classes, which we believe will offer students the most rigor,” Dollar said. “We want to find a balance of offering tenure-track and instructors. We have tenure-track here who are passionate about making that early connection with students, which you don’t often see elsewhere.”

Dollar acknowledged that the uncertainty surrounding the campus complicates the process of hiring new faculty. However, she was insistent the university would not sacrifice the quality of the baccalaureate core.

“The thing not up for discussion is the quality of those first two years, we cannot dilute them,” Dollar said. “But if we have to, we will cut back the number of classes to make sure that happens.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com