Grad rates are up

Though it may seem that Portland State is in line with the national trend of four-year colleges graduating a decreasing number of students, some university officials say otherwise.

Though it may seem that Portland State is in line with the national trend of four-year colleges graduating a decreasing number of students, some university officials say otherwise. This is because the bulk of PSU graduates aren’t freshmen—they’re transfer students.

An article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education on Dec. 5 reported that 35 percent of 1,400 four-year institutions had lower graduation rates at the end of a six-year cycle in 2008 than at the end of another in 2003.

The problem with looking at the various statistics on graduation rates is that every institution and college seems to have a different way of quantifying “graduation” or “completion,” according to Roy Koch, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at PSU.

“The standard national measure for national graduation rates is that of a full-time, first-time freshman graduating within six years,” Koch said. Because of this, PSU’s graduation rates appear low compared to other four-year universities.  

A full-time, first-time freshman is someone who is attending a university with a full load of classes, generally 12 or more credits, and who has never attended university before.

“Our rate of graduation with this definition is about 35 percent,” Koch said. “Many of our peer institutions [that are urban and serve students like ours] are on the order of 45 to 50 percent.”

This statistic is somewhat misleading, according to Sukhwant Jhaj, special assistant to the provost for student success and the director of University Studies.

Because PSU has far more transfer students and students that transfer out to other institutions in order to finish their degrees than “full-time, first-time freshmen,” the university’s graduation statistics are very low in regard to the national standard and definition.

“At PSU, [the national definition] represents the experience of a very small number of our students,” Jhaj said.

While this may be true, the graduation rate for students that have transferred into PSU is relatively high.

“The majority of PSU’s students are transfer students,” Jhaj said. “We also have a large number of part-time students.”

Another issue that skews the statistic of PSU’s graduation rate is the fact that “lots of students come with the intention of transferring out,” Koch said. This situation greatly lowers the university’s graduation statistics.

PSU is putting a lot of effort into increasing its graduation rate under the national definition, according to Koch. This is being accomplished through increasing student advising and the financial aid options that are available to students.

“We have added 14 new student advisers and we have increased our ability to communicate with students electronically,” Koch said.

He also said that by making core classes always available, the university hopes to keep students on track toward completing their goals in a timely manner.

“Our freshman class is our smallest class at the undergraduate level,” Koch said. “[Transfer students are] more successful in completing their degrees in a reasonable amount of time.”

Koch added that PSU’s retention rates are also up.

“That is very promising,” he said.

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, the graduation rate for students who start at PSU and graduate from PSU, or any other Oregon University System institution, within four to six years ranges anywhere from 60 to 72 percent. This is much higher than the standard measure of first-time freshmen graduating in six years.

Additionally, these graduation rates have increased by about 15 percent since 1991. So while the national standard definition may show PSU as lagging behind in regard to graduation rates, in reality the university has increased its graduation rates where it really counts for PSU—transfer students.

When comparing PSU’s graduation rates to other universities in the state, such as the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, most of the other Oregon schools have seen decreases in graduation rates during the last few years, according to data from the Delta Project on TCS Online.?