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The Oregonian: Portland State woos transfers with Oregon Promise-like 'free' program
Author: Andrew Theen, The Oregonian / OregonLive
Posted: February 7, 2018

Read the original story in The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Portland State University is already a destination for transfer students, but the urban access campus wants to extend the welcome mat for Oregon students even further.

On Wednesday, the school announced a new scholarship program that will allow qualified low-income transfer students who enroll in classes full-time to finish their undergraduate degrees on the Park Blocks without paying a cent of tuition or fees. The program takes effect this fall.

It comes on the heels of a separate program introduced last year aimed at high-achieving first-year freshman from low-income households, which school officials touted as one of the reasons PSU had the largest freshman class in school history.

Rahmat Shoureshi, PSU's president, said the Transfers Finish Free program is an important next step for the school. "We take it as a pride at PSU to be an access university," he said, alluding to the school's mission to teach low-income, first-generation and non-traditional students across the metro area, "and we are delighted to provide opportunities for students all across Oregon to come to PSU and complete their degrees," he said.

Like the much-ballyhooed Oregon Promise initiative, approved in 2015 before being substantially changed by the Legislature last year, Portland State is using a last-dollar funding approach to make the program pencil out.

Students must first accept all scholarships and grants offered to them, and Portland State will make up the difference, if any. For the Portland State program, students must also qualify for the low-income federal Pell Grant. For this school year, the maximum Pell grant is $5,920.

Diana Jimenez Alcala, who studies at Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus, said she is a Pell recipient and will transfer to the four-year program this fall.

"With this program, I can completely immerse myself into my studies and I won't have to stress about financial problems," she said during a news conference Wednesday.

The program does not cover the cost of books or housing.

Portland State's tuition for Oregon undergraduates is roughly $7,400, not including fees or books. 

Students must obtain at least a 2.5 grade point average to qualify, and transfer to the university with at least 30 credits. The program only applies to Oregon residents and will be available to qualified students for up to four years.

The school's new initiative appears perfectly timed to capture a potential wave of Oregon Promise students exiting their second years on community college campuses across the state and taking their next steps this fall.

But PSU insists it did not design the transfer policy with the notion of capitalizing on the thousands of Oregon Promise students.

"We're not dictated to by what's going on externally," said John Fraire, vice president of enrollment and student affairs.

Roughly 925 transfer students who were admitted to Portland State this fall would have qualified for the program, but just 564 of those students enrolled in classes.

Shoureshi said there is a psychological effect at play. It's comforting for students to know the tuition and fees will be covered, even if cost of attendance increases. 

"That's really a lot more important than the dollar amount that needs to be invested," he said of PSU's commitment. 

Shoreshi said the program fits within the school's existing budget. The university recently changed how it distributes financial aid to students to emphasize financial need first and foremost.

Fraire said the school distributed $3 million in financial aid to transfer students this year.

The new program, he said, should make the university even more desirable. Portland State has the least expensive tuition of any of the state's large public universities. "Portland State is very popular, particularly in poor communities," Fraire said. "And I think we need to do a better job to make it accessible."