Oregon State University-Cascades’ hospitality management program is the only one of its kind in Oregon, and has doubled in enrollment each year since the campus’ opening in 2015. Now, the university is rolling out some of the courses in the program to online students.

Starting Monday, two of the university’s seven hospitality management courses will be available online through Oregon State University’s Ecampus — the first time OSU-Cascades classes can be taken off its Bend campus. The university wanted to expand the program’s reach so those who can’t easily attend classes in Bend can receive the same education.

“We want to serve all of Oregon and beyond,” said Todd Montgomery, the senior instructor for OSU-Cascades’ hospitality management program. “We think we have a unique offering, and we think it will be appealing not just regionally, but also nationally and internationally.”

The five other courses in the program will be rolled out online over the next year, with two more classes coming in the fall, one in winter 2020 and the final two in spring 2020.

According to Montgomery, the hospitality bachelor’s degree program was developed with the help of Oregon lodging and restaurant leaders four years ago, and it’s ballooned in popularity since.

At the program’s start, fewer than 10 students were enrolled. This school year, about 50 people attended hospitality classes, with only three of those students originating from Central Oregon. Fifteen students have registered for the two online hospitality courses available this quarter, according to OSU-Cascades spokeswoman Christine Coffin.

Montgomery said because the demand for these classes — which aren’t offered as a degree in any other Oregon university — reach beyond Bend, having the program become more mobile was a smart decision.

“When we don’t get a student, it’s almost always because, for whatever reason, they just couldn’t move to Bend,” he said.

Montgomery thinks the online courses will be a popular choice not only for those living outside Central Oregon, but also for students who have busy lives and don’t have the time to be at OSU-Cascades’ campus often.

“These people have families; they have work,” he said. “Life is complicated, and you’re trying to balance everything. We don’t want the restrictions of life to get in the way.”

The online hospitality courses, with subjects including vacation property management, online marketing and reputation management, will be identical to the on-campus classes, and most will have the same professors, Montgomery said. There will be a few tweaks to fit the new medium: students will turn in assignments and essays online, and instead of having local industry leaders visit the class, they’ll record a video interview with OSU-Cascades instructors and post it online.

Coffin said the cost of taking the hospitality courses online will be only slightly more expensive: A four-credit Ecampus course costs $1,188, versus $1,174 for the same course on campus.

For the past few years, students have partnered with local hospitality companies including Mt. Bachelor and Sunriver Resort for projects. The online classes will continue those partnerships remotely, but Montgomery said in the future, OSU-Cascades could partner with other Oregon hospitality groups outside of Central Oregon to suit the needs of nonlocal students.

“If we saw a lot of Portland students, we would possibly look at a Portland challenge. If we saw a lot of people on the coast, we’d do the same thing there,” he said. “This just opens the door, and we haven’t had that possibility before, which is exciting.”

Despite some of the program’s core classes being available online, Montgomery said students would have to complete a few general education classes entirely or partially on-campus to complete their degree.

Oregon tourism leaders, who helped develop OSU-Cascades’ original hospitality program, say they’re excited about the possibilities for the online expansion. Todd Davidson, the CEO of Travel Oregon, the state’s official tourism marketing arm, said the online program should help provide more workforce training for Oregon’s growing tourism industry, which employs about 112,000 people statewide.

Davidson added that not only will adding online hospitality classes make the program more easily available for those who live outside Bend, it will also make it more convenient for those who work in the industry and want to continue their professional development by taking a class or two, or even earning a degree.

“For me, it’s a terrific move,” he said. “It’s to service a workforce that is hungry for continuing education and for continuing opportunities to advance.”

Jason Brandt, the president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, agreed with Davidson, calling the online expansion “a natural fit.”

“I think online expansion provides (the college) the opportunity to be more nimble and flexible, which is important as things are changing, especially in the tourism industry,” he said. “Hats off to OSU-Cascades for taking this seriously.”

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