Rentention at PSU: What’s normal for grads?

Most classes at Portland State have a few of what administrators call “non-traditional” students, but the data suggests there aren’t very many traditional students, either.

Most classes at Portland State have a few of what administrators call “non-traditional” students, but the data suggests there aren’t very many traditional students, either.

The traditional assumption is that students attend a college for four years and then graduate. However, non-traditional has become a polite way of saying “super senior”—and the PSU Office of Institutional Research and Planning doesn’t start keeping tabs on graduates until the five-year mark.

Data sheets are published on the OIRP website ( showing retention rates for various student classes, from first-time, full-time freshmen to transfer students. The sheets for incoming freshmen date back to 1991 and show the retention of cohort classes—or a select group of a type of student—that remain at PSU for one or two years, as well as how many graduate within five or six years.

There is no column for four-year students on these public data sheets. OIRP Director Kathi Ketcheson said PSU has a positive number of first-year graduates on a national scale within six years, and that transfer student rates are also positive.

“From freshman to graduation is the traditional metric, and Portland State has a good average,” Ketcheson said. “Some leave, some don’t graduate, but we have a lot of numbers among graduates that transfer [to Portland State].”

The retention rate since 1991 for six-year graduates is around 30 percent each year, and five-year graduates typically amount to 25 percent of each graduating class.

For last year’s five-year graduates—those who began in 2004 and graduated in 2009—the figure is 24.7 percent. Six-year graduates (who began in 2003) resulted in 30.7 percent retention.

Ketcheson said research analyst Lina Lu generated a study that she presented at a national conference in 2007 regarding graduation and retention. Lu also presented in May regarding the rates—her study and others can be found on the OIRP website.

When presented with the data, students weren’t surprised about the five- and six-year standards OIRP uses.

“I don’t think Portland State has a large number of traditional students, the four-year mold of students that come in and graduate,” said graduating senior Stacey Conger. “There are a lot of people taking night classes, online classes, anything they can schedule around work to attend school as they strive to graduate, and that’s likely to mean most students have to work with the schedule the school provides, even if that means taking more than four years.”

Conger added that she has primarily taken night classes to fit her work schedule. Curtis Dicken, who will walk in June but finishes class over the summer, agreed that class scheduling—among other factors—is why the four-year college model isn’t practical for Portland State students.

“I think mainly, the issue is scheduling,” Dicken said. “I think a lot of students aren’t living down there [on campus], so there’s not that typical sense of urgency, and taking a few extra years to graduate is pretty normal for students at Portland State.”

Whether you’ve been at Portland State for four years, six years, or longer, spring graduates will walk at the Rose Garden on June 13. Summer graduates will attend a commencement ceremony on August 14 in the Park Blocks.