Since its founding in 1856, Western Oregon University has equipped the region’s young adults to
serve the needs of the growing area. Even before Oregon was a state, students attended what
was first known as Monmouth University to train as school teachers, a profession in high demand
as people settled the Willamette Valley during the great Westward Expansion.
Throughout the ensuing years, a lot has changed at Western Oregon University, not the least
of which is its name, which has undergone six changes.
One thing, however, has remained the same: Western continues to attract, train and graduate
students who want to earn a career-focused degree in a small-town atmosphere. Many feel it is
just the right fit and fear they would be swallowed up at a larger public university. Many come from
low-income families who depend on financial aid and WOU’s manageable tuition to put a degree
within reach. When they graduate, they often go back to their hometowns to improve their
communities using the training, knowledge and skills they acquired at WOU.
As WOU moves into the 2020s, it continues this journey with an updated destination. The
university is striving to achieve the federal designation of Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which
means 25% of undergraduates identify as coming from Hispanic heritage. In fact, the number of
Latinx-identifying students attending Western Oregon has been rising for decades. But reaching
the 25% mark and earning the HSI designation not only indicates the university is serving this
population well, it also opens the opportunity for WOU to apply for grants that would benefit every
student on campus.
For the 2018-19 academic year, approximately 15.5% of students identified as Latinx. That
number rose to 22% when the high school students earning WOU credit through the Willamette
Promise program join the mix. Enrollment for the 2019-20 academic year with college students
alone is approximately 18.5%, so WOU is moving steadily forward in this journey to HSI.
To the casual observer, these changing demographics may seem like a major shift from WOU’s
traditional student body. But a closer look reveals it is business as usual. WOU has always served
first-generation students, students from along I-5 and students from small towns. Western Oregon
University just fits, they say. WOU allows students to spread their wings and find success — just
the same as always.
To see how WOU has impacted Latinx students, visit two student profiles here,