About UNST

students talking.

University Studies (UNST) is unlike any general education program at other public universities. 

University Studies is Portland State University’s innovative and nationally recognized general education program, but that is just the beginning of the story. UNST brings relevancy and meaning to your general education experience. Most university general education programs ask students to take a variety of courses from various disciplines in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the arts. UNST provides you with this broad intellectual exposure through interesting interdisciplinary courses organized in themes.

The courses in University Studies include peer mentoring relationships for caring support in your first and second years of college, electronic portfolios that you can build for your academic or career identity, and community-based learning that gets you out of the classroom and into the dynamic environment that is Portland. UNST does all of this in a teaching style that respects you and asks you to take ownership of your education.

Vision and Mission Statements

The University Studies Vision:
Challenging us to think holistically, care deeply, and engage courageously in imagining and co-creating a just world.


The University Studies Mission:
Our inclusive, interdisciplinary, and inquiry-based pedagogy:

  • provokes students to build self-efficacy through relational learning across difference 
  • encourages a community of educators to practice engaged teaching for transformative learning 
  • advances civic engagement, reflective practice, and the scholarship of teaching and learning
Students studying outside.

Program Learning Goals

The purpose of the general education program at Portland State University is to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, abilities, and attitudes which will form a foundation for lifelong learning among its students.

University Studies (UNST) is Portland State University’s nationally-recognized, interdisciplinary general education program

UNST provides PSU students with high-impact experiences that encourage lifelong learning skills of inquiry in a caring community. The Program is built around four learning objectives which help students connect more meaningfully with their world: critical thinking and inquiry; communication; diversity, equity and social justice; and ethics and social responsibility. Another major component of the Program is its award-winning UNST Peer Mentor Program, which provides the support PSU first-year and second-year students need to be successful in college, career, and life.

The four-year integrated general education program is required of all students, with the exception of those enrolled in Liberal Studies or the Honors Program. UNST begins with Freshman Inquiry, a year-long course introducing students to different modes of inquiry and providing them with the tools to succeed in advanced studies and their majors. At the sophomore level, students choose three different Sophomore Inquiry courses, each of which leads into a thematically linked, interdisciplinary cluster of courses at the upper-division level. In addition to an upper-division themed cluster, all students complete a Capstone course which consists of teams of students from different majors working together to complete a project addressing a real problem in the Portland metropolitan community.

For an in-depth examination of Portland State University's general education model, visit the University Studies Assessment Plan and Reports Section.

Foundation of Change: The University Studies Program

In 1993 the PSU Faculty Senate voted to take an extreme departure from the distribution model of general education. Starting from scratch, a faculty working group built a general education program based on the best research and thinking about student learning and development at the time. A review of the program’s founding documents reveals how revolutionary they were.

A view of the campus

History of UNST

Based on “a vision and a purpose that understands an ‘educated person’ to be one in a state of becoming, engaged in a life-long endeavor which is never complete,” the program created in 1993 reflects concepts and practices that are now hallmarks of exceptional, high impact general education programs, including:

  • Peer learning communities for students and faculty
  • Assessment for learning
  • Integrated, community-based, experiential curricula
  • Student-centered classrooms with embedded peer mentor support
  • Inquiry and problem-based interdisciplinary courses
  • Signature First-year experience and Capstone courses
  • A four-year structure that facilitates metacognition

Our foundational practices of critical reflection and assessment for program improvement, as opposed to assessment for external compliance, ensure an evolving and responsive curricula. For example, University Studies was one of the first institutions to implement student portfolio, followed by ePortfolio, practices. Over the years, portfolio assessment has evolved into an annual, rigorous, campus-wide effort based on faculty-developed rubrics.

The spirit of innovation and reflective practice that are central to University Studies continues to inform our work as we engage with the increasing diversity and dynamic needs of our students. 

Recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, the influence of University Studies on liberal education and pedagogy, in general, can be seen on campus as well as nationally and internationally. Examples include the adoption of campus-wide learning outcomes, numerous national awards, and program consultation for national and international universities moving to our model.