Turning 100 years old is a celebration of history, achievement, and change. The University of Oregon’s Academic Extension—known over the years as the Extension Division, Continuation Center, and Continuing Education—hit its century milestone in 2012. In its 100-plus year history, Extension has stayed true to its mission of bringing the university to the people of Oregon.
When the Extension division was officially established in 1912, it was at the urging of then-president Prince Lucien Campbell. Campbell enlisted a philosophy professor on leave from the University of Michigan to find out what Oregonians wanted from their university. The answers would soon come to include traveling lecture series, a film and slide service, community welfare projects, teacher reading circles, and formal instruction on topics from comptometer operation to debating.
From its beginnings in Portland, Extension offered courses in English, math, and drawing to employees of the Portland Railway, Light & Power Company. Regular teaching began in 1913, and the Portland Center was organized in 1917. Portland, though, was geographically inaccessible by much of the state, and as early as 1895, hundreds of homes throughout Oregon became classrooms for correspondence students.
In 1932, Extension merged into a statewide unit within the Oregon State System of Higher Education (OSSHE), the precursor to Oregon University System (OUS). The statewide unit was known variously as General Extension or Division of Continuing Education (DCE). In 1978, General Extension/DCE was eliminated as a centralized OSSHE unit and distributed to institutions around the state, and UO DCE was established.
Extension found a new home at the Beaverton CAPITAL Center in 1985. In 1987, UO Portland Center was established in the Willamette Block building in Portland at 2nd and Yamhill.
In 2003, UO Continuing Education programs vacated CAPITAL Center and consolidated in UO Portland Center in the historic Old Town district at 2nd and Yamhill. In 2008, Continuing Education relocated to the White Stag Block, joining academic partners in the fields of business, architecture, journalism, and product design, where the Portland campus is located today.
Correspondence courses eventually went the way of the comptometer, but the learn-at-home experience remained in high demand. By the late 1990s, technological advances meant new opportunities for nontraditional learning. Academic Extension first began offering online courses in the academic year 1996-97, with an enrollment of 34. Over the next fifteen years, Academic Extension served over 30,000 students through the Distance Education program.
Classes in bird study, citizenship, or practical electricity are no longer offered through Extension, but many subjects have remained of interest over the years. With assistance from the Extension Division, the UO Department of Botany campaigned in 1921 to preserve wildflowers, trees, and shrubs along highways and parks. Academic Extension now supports cultural exploration and preservation through UO Insight Seminars, and by assisting with camps, institutes and seminars for a range of organizations and campus partners.
In the 1920s, Extension encouraged teachers to become students as well, offering special reading circle courses in secondary school methods, teaching for inexperienced teachers, rural school management and health education, and educational psychology. Today, Academic Extension offers Professional Development for Educators courses through multiple program collaboration with the College of Education and in 2016 introduced UO Real Solutions, with online professional development programs for educators.
Academic Extension continues to welcome professionals from other fields as well. The Applied Information Management (AIM) Program was created for working professionals looking to complete a master’s degree while employed full time. The program began onsite in the Portland Center and eventually went completely online. More than 300 master's degrees have been earned through AIM to date.
Intent on serving students from a broad range of age and experience, early Extension faculty handbooks emphasized the differing needs and interests of Extension students. True to that understanding, Academic Extension today offers opportunities for every kind of student, even those without the time or interest to be formally enrolled. Through the Community Education Program, nontraditional students can take regular UO courses without being admitted to the university.
In 1994, it became clear that an extended student body should include mature adults as well as young people and professionals, and Learning in Retirement was begun. This program became the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a vibrant community of adults learning for their own personal enrichment. OLLI–UO is part of a national network of 120 lifelong learning institutes that receive funding from the Bernard Osher foundation. Through noncredit lectures, short courses, and study and discussion groups, OLLI–UO provides both a community and opportunity to learn with peers.
Academic Extension continues to create new educational opportunities and further develop its network of campus partnerships to embrace change and envision growth for a diverse community. Academic Extension carries the founding mission of Extension into another century, making university education available to all Oregonians.