College students read on the quad.
College students read on the quad. - 
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Scott Jagow: It's that time of year on campus.
Students are going to football games and fraternity parties. They've probably attended one statistics class, and decided to drop it. And they're not too sure about their dorm roommate yet.

But not every college is brimming with life. Some rural colleges are really struggling to stay open. Ethan Lindsey reports from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Ethan Lindsey: About 3,000 students attend Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. Its small, grassy quad in the middle of campus can seem to be the only patch of green in this dusty farm state.

Despite its beauty, the number of freshman applications has dropped by almost half in just two years.

First and foremost, it's a problem of mobility. High school graduates don't stick around like they used to, says university president Dixie Lund.

Dixie Lund: Sometimes, the younger students, they need to see what the rest of Oregon or the rest of the world is like.

George Pernsteiner is the chancellor of the Oregon University System. He says as grads leave rural areas, they marry and raise a new generation of students elsewhere.

George Pernsteiner: You're beginning to see a lower number of college-aged students, because the high school graduating classes in those parts of the states are going down.

He says one way to combat the problem is to make college more affordable so that enrollments stay up.

Pernsteiner also oversees Western Oregon University. Applications there rose dramatically when the university promised not to jack up freshman tuition for four straight years.

Another way to increase enrollment is to broaden the student base. President Dixie Lund at Eastern Oregon University says half their students study over the Internet.

Lund: Once in a while on graduation day, a graduate from pick-a-state will come to La Grande and it may be the first time that they have been able to set foot on the La Grande campus. Everything else has been done by phone and by e-mail.

Lund says a personal touch in recruiting is also critical. She says her first real act as president was to send a letter to all Oregon students who didn't get in to more desirable universities.

She says there's no cure-all for problems at rural colleges. But by cobbling together different solutions, schools like her's can survive.

In La Grande, I'm Ethan Lindsey for Marketplace.

Follow Ethan Lindsey at @ethanlindseyMMR