Bend, Oregon has grown by 25,000 people in the last 10 years. Once a thriving mill town, Bend has transitioned to a recreational mecca for visitors and residents alike. Nearby Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, miles of mountain biking trails, floater-friendly Deschutes River and legendary Smith Rock, have all turned Bend from a burst building bubble into a year-round recreational, beer-thirsty and music-drenched community in survivalist mode. Home to many creative entrepreneurs, Bend has an energetic community of diverse, driven people who are creating their own jobs in hopes of sustaining a Central Oregon lifestyle.
Bend is home to Central Oregon Community College – located on a wooded campus on the southwest slope of Awbrey Butte on Bend’s west side. Established in the mid-1960’s, COCC has grown their campus to include locations in Redmond, Madras and Prineville. But the Bend campus is still bursting at the seams after expansion to nearby communities. They have also welcomed Oregon State University’s (OSU) Cascades campus as a sister school, located within their Bend campus. OSU’s Cascades campus serves as a capstone, offering upper division and graduate course work toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees. When it opened in 2001, OSU-Cascades was targeted as a place where COCC students could finish their coursework and receive a degree from a four-year university. Currently, OSU-Cascades is not a traditional, four-year university.
Mazama Hall -COCC, Bend Campus
Research of similar towns with four-year universities shows that bicycle traffic, affordable (and diverse) dining options, well-supported bar scenes, performing arts and music venues, limitless outdoor opportunities and coffee shops are important to college students. Blake Gumprecht writes in his book, The American College Town, that the qualities more specified to Regional State Universities include student-oriented bars, neighborhoods with student rentals, and a less conspicuous impact of collegiate culture. And regional universities are more representative of their location than other types of college towns. OSU’s main campus resides in the Willamette Valley therefore, OSU-Cascades is considered a Regional Campus.
OSU-Cascades Facility Near the Old Mill District
The Huffington Post reported on a few excellent college towns with benefits such as “the city is your playground (Boston),” and “no shortage of outdoor activities in all seasons (Boulder).” Other characteristics like campus beauty, a laid back atmosphere offering students more than just drinking, and welcoming local residents, are what make or break a college town.
Deschutes River Waterfront
Even retirees are drawn to active lifestyles, seeking a little intellectual stimulation along the way. According to the National Association of Realtors, Baby Boomers are increasingly citing a preference for college and university communities. In 2000, Bend, Oregon was voted one of the Best Places to Retire by Money magazine. Affordable living, a small population and active lifestyles put Bend on the map - a large leap from Portland and limited academic facilities were listed as drawbacks. Fast forward to 2012 and the population has increased by half, but homes are finally affordable again, and entertainment, recreation, dining and drinking options are limitless. Many might say that Bend has barely survived the burst of the real estate bubble.
Bend Brewfest Banners in the Old Mill District
Back in 2008, Zillow.com reported that college towns happen to be one of the safest places to buy a new home - steady employment, constant housing and saturated rental markets are just a few of the reasons, with small cities benefitting the most. A lack of on-campus housing also stands as an opportunity for investment. Parents of students have the option of purchasing a home for their sons and daughters, with the likely possibility that their investment will appreciate and/or become a future retirement home.
Les Schwab Ampitheater in the Old Mill
Les Schwab Amphitheater stage in the Old Mill District
Creating a desirable environment where students want to live seems to be the bottom line. There are many students attending the University of Texas in Austin so they can graduate, get a job and raise a family there. As Gumprecht writes, “a college town is … any city where a college or university and the culture it creates, exerts a dominant influence over the character of the community.” Bozeman, Montana and Boise, Idaho are western cities both home to major universities, and compare in size and lifestyle to Bend. But the location and surrounding areas of campus seem to be the deciding factor when future students and faculty make their choices. If a four-year university in Bend is in fact funded, the campus will likely be positioned mere yards from the Deschutes River, less than a mile from the Old Mill District, and less than two miles from downtown. Prime placement, or so it seems, for a town that’s currently struggling to identify what its next burst-resistant bubble might be.
River Bend Park