PSU holds annual Winter Symposium to discuss strategies to improve student success
Author: By Kenny Ma, PSU Media & PR
Posted: March 1, 2019

Having enough academic support, incurring less student debt and finding mentorship and advising are some core factors that determine whether Portland State University students succeed.

The university held Winter Symposium 2019 -- a gathering of faculty, staff and campus leaders -- on Feb. 28 to discuss these issues, the progress made toward improving student success, and strategies and initiatives that have produced better graduation and retention rates.

“I just want to highlight the fact that our freshman to sophomore year retention rate is 74 percent - the highest it has ever been,” PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi said. “And that is thanks to the good work of our faculty and staff in redesigning the academic experience. They are innovating and redesigning the curriculum, and leading the way in improving student success.”

PSU launched several student opportunity and success initiatives this year, including improved advising and degree mapping to new digital learning approaches and an expanded, formal cooperative education program.

“We are finding creative ways to relieve students’ financial pressure, to offer them flexible online degrees, and to connect them with career-related work and research opportunities that intensify their enthusiasm for learning,” Shoureshi said.

Two new programs - Four Years Free and Transfers Finish Free - were launched to help alleviate student debt and improve access to PSU. They have helped boost retention rates for freshmen and transfers students, the latter of which is 79 percent, according to PSU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning. PSU’s six-year graduation rate for freshman is just below 50 percent. About 61 percent of transfers finish in four to five years.

Other symposium topics included active and adaptive courseware learning, programs to help transfer students successfully transition from community colleges, student student success in student affairs, etc.

Rachel Webb, a PSU math and statistics instructor, said her student outcomes improved because she implemented an active and adaptive model that personalized learning and used live data about students learning to guide in-class activities, redesign courses and provide student support. 

The goals of active learning are improving students’ abilities to retain information, providing them with opportunities to exercise critical and creative thinking and engaging them with the course materials. 

Jim Hook, an associate dean at the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, said his college has several initiatives to help retain transfer students such as providing them with a transfer student guide, hosting quarterly welcome events and sending advisors to community college campuses to provide advice and guidance to transferring students.

“PSU is central to the most important educational ecosystem in Oregon,” Hook said. “In partnership with providers throughout the community, PSU helps Oregonian achieve economic mobility. Transfer students are the rule, not the exception.”

Michele Toppe, vice provost for student affairs, said her division hosted a Summer Retention Institute last year with faculty and staff to leverage and scale up existing resources to alleviate stressors for students such as finances, retention, housing, study time, food insecurity and others.

Successful examples of retention initiatives in student affairs include:  

  • The PSU Coordination Assessment Response Education Team (CARE) supporting students for a variety of stressors such as drug or alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, etc.; 
  • The Queer Resource Center reaching out to academically at risk students;
  • Several resources such as a short-term child care center, family study rooms and lactation spaces support students with children; and
  • PSU Housing and Residence Life providing academic coaching for students who are behind in their studies.

Students want to feel supported because they “don’t want to be just a number,” Toppe said. “They want to persist and succeed, and we are here to help.”

 Photo: PSU students line up during a commencement ceremony.