Portland State University was ranked among the top 10 universities in three new categories by US News and World Report in the annual university rankings compiled by the magazine.
The new categories focus on the quality of education at various campuses. PSU ranked fourth in the nation in the category of service learning, seventh in the area of learning communities and eighth for the senior capstone program.
“Service learning is the term that they use. On our campus we usually talk about it as community-based learning,” explained vice provost for curriculum and undergraduate studies Terrel Rhodes.
Community-based learning is a significant component of the PSU experience, especially in regards to the senior capstone program.
“It has really been a jewel in the curriculum and the senior year is the capstone,” said vice provost and special assistant to president Devorah Lieberman of the role of community-based learning.
All three areas that PSU was recognized for in US News and World Report are part of a comprehensive program initiated by the university to reach out to the city of Portland.
“I think they work together in terms of the mission or the motto of the university, “Let knowledge serve the city.” I think they are in part related to what we do in university studies with the capstone, and what’s done in other parts of the university,” said provost of academic affairs Mary Kay Tetreault.
While academics have in the past been reluctant to embrace such rankings, PSU’s administration is encouraged by the recognition.
“I think academics do want to play down the rankings because it makes it into a competitive game. They try to play down the rankings because they want to take it out of that game metaphor,” Rhodes said.
But these new categories are a bit different from the typical ranking systems used to assess the quality of institutions. Where US News and World Report has in the past looked at things like test scores and alumni contributions, PSU’s showing in this new section of categories titled “programs that work” exposes the real nontraditional work that the university does.
“We’re pleased with these rankings that came out, mostly because they show a shift toward looking at the student educational experience,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes explains that as much as two-thirds of PSU’s students are returning students or transfer students, which makes it difficult to see the accomplishments of the university using traditional markers.
Rhodes sees PSU as a nontraditional institution working toward the future. As more and more people obtain a college degree, the component of the student body that has come straight from high school is going to decrease.
“That’s one of the things about the 21st century. In the 20th century, high school education became universal, and now in the 21st century the undergraduate baccalaureate degree is going to become the same type of thing,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes sees a great deal of students returning from the work force to expand on their previous college experience as they encounter a shift in the economy as a whole.
“The whole underpinning of our economy has been shifting to what is being called a knowledge economy. Some of those demands for what is being looked for and needed has changed,” Rhodes said.
That connection is furthered by continued work in the community, the work for which PSU is now nationally recognized.
“It seems to me that students go out in teams and they do real work, and I think it shapes the way that students think about themselves and their degree. It also gives the students a head start in employment, and that’s something that’s valued in a lot of professions and industries,” Tetreault said.
“I think Portland State has done that from the very beginning … and it’s made a big difference,” Tetreault said.
“There are no students who aren’t exposed to some form of community-based learning,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman feels the next step is to assess the effect that these community-based programs have on the metro area at large.
Lieberman describes a program with the Oregon Leadership Institute: “PSU students mentor high school Latino students throughout an entire year. So at the beginning of the year, we ask the students how many of you are planning on graduating high school, how many of you are planning on attending college? We’ve measured that because of the mentoring more students are graduating high school and more are continuing on to college.”
1. Berea College (Ky.)
2. Stanford University (Calif.)
3. University of Pennsylvania (Pa.
4. Portland State University (Ore.)
5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Mich.)
6. University of Utah (Utah)
7. University of Notre Dame (Ind.)
8. Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (Ind.)
9. Trinity College (Conn.)
10. Bentley College (Maine)
1. Evergreen State College (Wash.)
2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Mich.)
3. University of Maryland-College Park (Md.)
4. Wagner College (N.Y.)
5. Iowa State University (Iowa)
6. Temple University (Pa.)
7. Portland State University (Ore.)
8. University of Missouri-Comlumbia (Mo.)
9. Alverno College (Wis.)
10. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Wis.)
1. Princeton University (N.J.)
2. College of Wooster (Ohio)
3. Reed College (Ore.)
4. Swarthmore College (Pa.)
5. Stanford University (Calif.)
6. Michigan State University
7. Worchester Polytechnic Institute (Mass.)
8. Bates College (Maine)
9. Dartmouth College (N.H.)
10. Harvard University (Maine)
11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Mass.)
12. Portland State University (Ore.)