Oregon State University-­Cascades’ current first-year and transfer student populations are officially the young university’s largest to date, and the former group is making the campus both younger and more diverse.

The college welcomed 113 first-year students this fall, a 32 percent increase from last year’s class, although lower than initial projections of 40 percent in September, according to OSU-Cascades statistics. The school, which opened its campus in the fall of 2016, has grown to 1,259 total students — a 4.6 increase from last year, according to the university.

First-year students have lowered the average age of an OSU-Cascades student from 29 to 25.

One of the first-year students, Fernando Arellano, 18, of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, said he chose OSU-Cascades because he wanted to live closer to nature.

“I saw this campus and thought, what a great opportunity to get a great education and have fun while I’m here, enjoy this great environment,” Arellano said. “Every day just amazes me, with all the views. I can see Broken Top and Sisters mountains from where I’m at, and it’s amazing.”

Although Arellano isn’t the only out-of-state first-year student at OSU-Cascades, he is outnumbered: 85 percent of that group are Oregonians.

Jane Reynolds, director of Enrollment Services and Student Success, said the university is “pretty excited” about the big first-year class, and the drop in the average student age has pushed OSU-Cascades toward providing more programs and activities aimed at younger students. For example, on Halloween, the school held a “trunk or treat,” in which student clubs held activities and handed out candy and treats in the campus parking lot.

However, Reynolds said OSU-Cascades will continue to cater to older students, as the university also had a 20 percent bump in transfer students. Reynolds said the majority of these transfer students are Central Oregon residents who previously attended Central Oregon Community College. According to OSU-Cascades, the age range of its students is 17 to 77.

One transfer student from COCC, Bend resident ­Alexa Tawzer, said she chose OSU-Cascades because she preferred to not move far away to a larger university.

“I really love it here,” said Tawzer, 20. “I like the location; I like the size of it. I get to stay with my family, pursue what I like and have the benefits of a small campus.”

OSU-Cascades’ new students are also more diverse than the rest of the university and Bend as a whole. OSU-Cascades said 23 percent of first-year students are people of color, compared to 17 percent campuswide. Bend is nearly 90 percent white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Reynolds said the increase of diversity at OSU-­Cascades is a reflection of local high schools becoming more diverse.

“Oregon is getting more diverse; Central Oregon is getting more diverse, and thats who’s coming to college,” she said.

Arellano said although he doesn’t see many Latinos in Bend or on campus, he doesn’t feel like an outsider at OSU-Cascades.

“Here, people might be majority white, but it comes down to their morals and beliefs,” he said. “And a lot of people share the same beliefs as me here, especially around the outdoors and eco-consciousness.”

Reynolds said OSU-Cascades’ rapid growth is due to a combination of factors.

“We’ve got more facilities opened up; we’re attractive to folks that would like to finish their degree here in Bend,” she said. “We’re available and here to help our Central Oregon students. I think a lot of those students wouldn’t come to college if we weren’t here.”

Arellano, who’s studying natural resources, said he’s glad that he chose OSU-Cascades.

“I’ve never seen any place like this. It’s beautiful,” he said. “You can never find this, especially in LA, where it’s a bunch of houses, traffic and concrete. Here, it’s just nature.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com