After moving into their dorm rooms Sunday, first-year students were scattered throughout Oregon State University-Cascades’ Bend campus Monday afternoon, neon-orange lanyards hanging from their necks. Some were participating in activities; others were simply exploring their new home.

All of the new students are part of what is likely OSU-Cascades’ largest first-year class, according to university officials. Although official numbers aren’t reported to the state until the fourth week of classes, Jane Reynolds, director of enrollment services and student success, said she estimated a 40 percent bump, meeting OSU-Cascades’ expectations.

“We will probably see a few more come in, and we will potentially see some students check out (four weeks later),” she said. “But generally speaking, there’s no question that it’s going to be our biggest class.”

According to Reynolds, there are about 100 first-year and nearly 200 new transfer students this year, and about 130 to 150 of those were living in the campus’ residence hall. Last year, enrollment rose about 7 percent and the college had 81 first-year students.

Reynolds said one reason for the rapid growth was having more out-of-state students attending than ever before. Out-of-state students who chose to live in the on-campus residence hall received a discount to make up for out-of-state tuition costs, she said.

“The biggest group is from California, some from Washington, but also some from Montana and Idaho, which are kind of similar to Central Oregon in terms of what you can do outside, and I think that’s an attractive thing for students,” she said.

One student from outside Oregon is Aiden Willit, 18, from Vancouver, Washington. She said the recently built dorms made her feel “like I was in a fancy hotel,” and she opted for OSU-Cascades over its larger sister campus in Corvallis.

“I love to ski, and I also really liked OSU. But I can’t ski in Corvallis,” Willit said.

Some first-year students traveled from other parts of Oregon. Salem native Garrison Grant, 18, said he chose OSU-Cascades because of Bend’s outdoor activities. Ashley Thomas, 18, from Florence, said she was following a family legacy — sort of.

“My grandma went to OSU, and she just recently passed away, and I thought I’d go for her,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go to Corvallis because I hate Corvallis. There’s nothing there for me. But I love Bend.”

Still, two-thirds of OSU-Cascades students hail from Central Oregon, according to college spokeswoman Christine Coffin. Some of them, including Sara Dingman, 18, and Justice Zito, 17, — from Redmond and Bend, respectively — said they chose OSU-Cascades mainly to save money by commuting from home. Others, such as Lachlan Wood, 18, from Sisters, opted for the dorms despite living only 20 minutes away.

“I’m in the dorms, and it’s so fresh in there,” he said. “It’s spotless everywhere.”

Reynolds said another potential reason for OSU-Cascades’ large first-year class is the college’s reputation continues to grow in its fourth year as a four-year institution (and third year at its new campus).

“We’re just more established now, and the word is getting out about what a great place this is to come to school,” she said. “The kind of attention you receive from faculty and staff here and the rigor of the classes is really attractive. This is an OSU degree with the same requirements as the main campus.”

A more intimate learning experience is what drew Bend resident Josie Thomas, 18, to OSU-Cascades.

“When you’re in Corvallis, you don’t get an actual professor until your junior (or) senior year,” she said. “At a smaller environment, you definitely get that experience as a freshman and sophomore.”

Throughout the college’s “Welcome Week,” first-year students can participate in activities off campus (including a scavenger hunt in downtown Bend) and games, seminars and ice-breaking activities on the OSU-Cascades grounds. The first day of classes is Thursday.

Reynolds said the college is “excited” for the large first-year class, and she hopes for even more growth in future years.

“We do have room for more — we have some room in that residence hall,” she said. “But this has been a great year in terms of new students coming in.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854;