The great northwestern state of Oregon became a U.S. territory in 1843 and, sixteen years later, the 33rd state. Sparsely populated but blessed with a diverse natural landscape, Oregon’s various colleges and universities are often ensconced in the state’s ecological bounty. Its system of higher education actually got its start not just before Oregon was a state but before it was even officially recognized as its own territory.
In 1842, Williamette University opened its doors. The private liberal arts school based out of the capital city of Salem would not only become the first university in Oregon, but it was one of the very first to spring up on America’s west coast. Today, Williamette is one of 25 non-profit private colleges throughout the state.
The most highly regarded of schools in this category is Reed College, an independent liberal arts campus that began enrolling students in 1908. Serving approximately 1500 students across 116 acres in the midst of Portland, Oregon’s most populous city, Reed stands apart both for its stye of pedagogy and its approach to student evaluation. Contrary to the conventional model, Reed’s professors teach in a conference style which eschews monologic lecturing. Moreover, the school’s progressive student assessment methods shift the emphasis away from traditional letter grades. Perhaps most uniquely, Reed is the only university in the country that houses its very own student-run nuclear reactor, a vote of confidence in the capabilities of its undergraduates if ever one existed!
Oregon is also home to 25 public universities. Tops among them is the University of Oregon in Eugene. Founded in 1876, this gorgeous 295-acre campus opened its doors to an inaugural class of 155. The flagship college in the broad University of Oregon System is home to about 21,000 students today as well as the Ducks athletics programs. In addition to a world class track team, Oregon’s NCAA Pacific-12 Conference men’s football team produced its very first Heisman Trophy winner in 2014 with NFL-bound quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Though the University of Oregon is likely the state’s best public school, Portland State University is its largest. With just about 25,000 students enrolled, the University provides both a campus and curriculum that encourage students to make use of the city around them for learning and working opportunities.
On the whole, Oregon’s university population has seen growth in recent years, especially relative to a national trend of declining enrollment. Between 2008 and 2013, full-time enrollment in Oregon’s various universities climbed by 27.7%.