New program to allow access to five schools

In the fall of 2007 Portland State students will have the option to be enrolled at PSU and four area community colleges simultaneously, a reaction to the rapidly growing trend of dual-enrolled and non-traditional students.

The concept for a coalition of local colleges, now called the Portland Area Higher Education Consortium, began in 2003 when PSU President Dan Bernstine met with presidents from Clackamas Community College, Portland Community College, Chemeketa Community College and Mt. Hood Community College to discuss the possibility.

The creation of the Consortium has raised concerns among some students that the line between PSU and area community colleges is blurring as the University’s resources continue to be stretched thin. However proponents of the alliance say that the program is simply catching up with already existent trends.

“It’s an attempt to reflect what students were already doing,” said PSU President Dan Bernstine. “It looks at the region more holistically.”

The Consortium took form last month when each institution agreed to enter into a partnership to develop the program, with the goal of consolidating the application process and providing students with access to more resources and classes. Portland State instructors will be able to teach PSU classes at community college facilities in an attempt to combat a lack of classroom space.

“PSU is increasing the number of courses offered at community colleges,” said Guy Sievert, coordinator for the Consortium. “The other advantage is that among the five schools, Chemeketa and PCC offer the two largest amount of online courses in Oregon.”

Bernstine said that those worried that PSU is shifting its focus away from the South Park Blocks shouldn’t be concerned.

“We’re always going to serve our own campus,” he said.

The new program includes creating a universal ID card, a single financial aid package, a single application and registration process and the alignment of courses and academic policies among the participant intuitions.

There will be two kinds of acceptances. If a student meets both PSU and CC requirements, they will have access to all five institutions. If students cannot meet PSU acceptance requirements, they will have access to the four community colleges with the ability to eventually gain access to all five schools when they meet the requirements.

“The academic deans are meeting to make sure the students are well prepared,” said Sievert. “Students will know exactly what the need to do and they’ll be prepared. This will really help them.”

Students will pay the tuition that each institution charges and will receive separate bills, though the end goal is to consolidate the bills into one master bill. Students who choose the Consortium option will choose a “home” institution that will handle their financial aid.

“Whoever your home institution is, they will look at your total cost of attendance and create a package,” said Sievert.

Because the disparity in cost between PSU and the community colleges, some students may receive less money. However the financial aid packages will reflect the classes students are enrolled in and will be based on “the actual cost of going to school,” according to Sievert.

A single bill is still far on the horizon, but single registration and a single financial aid package will be ready by January of 2007.

“We want to simplify looking at schedules,” said Sievert. “Our facilities people are going to meet to address bookstore options, parking and the ID card. The goal is to reduce cost to students.”

Sievert predicts that nearly 100,000 students will attend classes among the five institutions over the course of the first year, creating the potential for even more parking and space problems that have plagued PSU campus. Bernstine called the Consortium “in some ways, the largest university in the country.”

“One of the things that facilities are going to talk about is parking,” Sievert said. “There will be increased shuttles (between campuses). We hope through coordination we can solve problems and make it easier for students.”

The Consortium’s most ambitious goal and the key to making the alliance work is the creation of a universal data management system. Currently the five colleges use three different systems to keep track of student records.

“One of our big challenges is to create a system that holds student records,” said Sievert. “The cost of that system might result in some fee, but it will be fairly small.”

Once the system is in place, students will be able to audit their transcripts using the Course Applicability System. The CAS will show students what classes they need to take to complete their degree and list available courses at all five institutions.

“It’s good for students because they can use their time more efficiently,” said Erin Devaney, PSU student body president. “Increasing a student’s ability to maximize a college education by allowing them to attend multiple campuses during a single term increases access and decreases financial burden.”

Bernstine and Sievert encourage students not to discount the value of the Consortium.

“The single piece of advice I would give students is to take advantage of the program,” said Sievert. “One thing that students need to know is that the instruction you get at a community college is first rate. This program has tremendous potential.”