By the Editorial Board
Western Oregon University might be one of the most under-appreciated colleges in the Pacific Northwest.
The Monmouth-based university is getting national attention for providing outstanding teaching, increasing graduation rates and delivering an economical yet relevant education. But within Oregon, it’s been easy to take Western for granted while other universities grabbed the limelight.
Under the leadership of previous President John Minahan, Western went from being on the proverbial higher-education chopping block to a college that was financially stable. Along the way, it continued to broaden and strengthen its academic offerings.
Oregonians can look for that trend to continue under the leadership of Mark Weiss, who recently had the “interim” tag removed from his title as president.
Western educates about 5 percent of the students who attend Oregon’s seven public universities. But it stands out for several reasons:
• It’s innovative. Examples include its tuition-price guarantees; its targeted recruiting of international students, whose higher tuition payments hold down costs for in-state students; and its development of a nursing program in conjunction with Oregon Health & Science University.
• It might be the most “Oregon” and the most diverse of the state universities. Eighty-five percent of its students come from Oregon. Half the students are the first in their families to attend college; many are low-income. About 20 percent of students are from underserved minority populations; about 11 percent are Hispanic.
• It educates many of the students who enter public service in Oregon, whether as teachers or as firefighters.
• It’s expanding, with more than $50 million in new facilities opening during the past couple of years, and more on the way. Yet the campus is small enough that almost any place is within a 10-minute walk of a parking spot.
• Its professors do groundbreaking research but their primary mission is teaching. Small class sizes are the norm. “Our mission is to make sure that our students succeed,” Weiss told the Statesman Journal Editorial Board.
In June, nearly 1,200 students graduated from Western, a record.
Western Oregon University has about 6,200 students. It’s a small college providing a big education.