Wim Wiewel Has His Work Cut Out For Him

I read with great interest the Oregonian’s report on the new president of Portland State University. Seems like $350 large should be enough salary, especially if, as stated, the Oregon University System offers his wife a job, too, as a facilities director (should be a clean half million plus then, between the two of them). However, I am concerned with his priorities as he stated them. He wants to engage the university with the community. He wants to “reach out” to the high schools and community colleges. He wants to talk to students and staff. He wants to focus on the intertwining of the city and the university.

How nice.

This may be all well and good (but it hardly seems new), however, the glaring problem at Portland State is the absolutely abysmal graduation rate. After SIX years only 34.7 percent of PSU’s students actually graduate. How can this be? How can only 1/3 of the enrolled students manage to actually graduate given TWO additional years to do so? A look at the table below from the Education Trust will show how PSU compares with other universities and colleges in Oregon.

Willamette University-74.1
Reed College-72.8
Lewis & Clark College-71
University Of Portland-67.8
Linfield College-67.5
Pacific University-64
University Of Oregon-63
Oregon State University-61.1
Corban College-61.1
George Fox University-58.9
Warner Pacific College-50
Concordia University – Oregon-45.2
Western Oregon University-44.5
Southern Oregon University-40.1
Oregon Institute Of Technology-36.9
Portland State University-34.7

Not that well, as you may have noticed. If we look at the four year graduation rate (and that is how many years it should take to graduate from college) PSU has the lowest rate in the state (except for Marylhurst) at 13.2 percent! To make this perfectly clear — fewer than TWO in TEN students who enroll at PSU ever graduate in the normal 4 years allotted for a typical undergraduate degree. That is massive failure at every level.

Graduation rate is the elephant in the room. This is the top problem facing PSU and all the community engagement in the world is not going to help. Some radical changes need to be made at PSU. How can anyone or anything stay in business when it fails to do what it set out to do more than 86% of the time?

Wait, I forgot, they don’t have to stay in business. We fund them regardless. I would only hope that Wim, the selection for president only after every other candidate withdrew, will re-examine his priorities and focus on the one glaring problem at PSU. Hardly anyone is actually graduating on time. What is the point of higher education if it is never completed? I have seen few job postings asking for candidates who just went to college but never got a degree.

If 86% failure isn’t a huge, loud, glaring wake-up call I am not sure what ever will be.

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Posted by at 05:42 | Posted in Measure 37 | 27 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Britt Storkson

    This pivotal issue here, as with most business decisions is not what you pay but what you get for what you pay. Most people with big-paying government jobs wouldn’t last two days flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s They have the job because of nepotism, not because they’re qualified to do anything.

    The graduation rate is figure is meaningless unless tied to the performance expected from the student. If the school simply requires the student to show up once in awhile to get an “A” grade then the graduation rate is naturally going to be high. If the school actually demands that the student perform and pass tests in order to graduate then the graduation rates are going to be lower.

    • eagle eye

      Are you saying that Wiewel and his wife got their jobs at PSU because of nepotism?

    • devietro

      As a PSU student let me assure you its not a bad school but its not tough for most students either.

  • eagle eye

    Uh, Jerry, seems like you could benefit from a little time in a PSU composition class?

    “Seems like $350 large should be enough salary”

    • Jerry

      Technically there is nothing wrong whatsoever with that phrase. If you like, replace salary with remuneration, pay, compensation or money. It might sound better, but grammatically it is no different. All are correct – simply writer’s choice. I often write in a conversational manner, so this was intentional and I stand by it fully.

      Glad your eagle eye is out there, however.
      Thanks for the input. Always welcome and appreciated.

      • dean

        Jerry…as a former PSU graduate student, I’m wondering if the figures you cite take into account that PSU has a much higher proportion of part-time students as compared with other colleges and universities. This reflects its position in Portland, where many people (like myself) choose to work full time and go to school part time.

        Also…your snarky tone suggests the new president is somehow responsible for PSU’s failings, if they are indeed failings. But he hasn’t started yet.

        • Anonymous

          “This reflects its position in Portland, where many people (like myself) choose to work full time and go to school part time.”

          So, are you commenting from “full time” work or “part time” school?

          I thought you were self-employed – “working” from bucolic Damascus in an unlit barn (with a good Southern exposure). I guess we’ll just have to check the BS-o-meter to see what filter to use today. I expect the “discount all posts from this commenter” one will work as well as always.

          • dean

            Commenting from self-employed office in farm house…not barn. Attended PSU part time 1987-1995.

            Feel free to discount whatever you like. I always discount asinine comments from anonymous cowards, so we can call it even.

            And Jerry (below,) a “degree” is not necessarily why one would take classes. One might take guitar lessons to learn how to play, not to get a guitar degree. One can do the same with philosophy, art, expository writing, business mangement, or wildlife biology. Much education is done with no paper reward at the end. Sometimes people just want to learn something new, or improve their skill level. It is not up to you to judge the motivations of others, as you would not want to be judged for your life choices.

          • Anonymous

            “Commenting from self-employed office in farm house…not barn. Attended PSU part time 1987-1995.”

            Oh, so “This reflects its position in Portland, where many people (like myself) choose to work full time and go to school part time.” is just more of your meaningless, asinine blather?

            You left out the part where you admit that you *don’t* work in Portland – along with those “…many people…” of which you pretend to be one. That’s OK, at least you know what you meant.

            The rest of us don’t care.

          • dean

            PSU is in Portland. I am not. But I am in the Portland metropolitan area…okay?

            I work “in Portland” as in projects within that city and elsehere FROM a home office OUTSIDE of Portland.

            I’m glad you don’t care. I wish you cared little enough to stop making ridiculous assumptions. Your education is costing me too much time.

  • devietro

    As a current PSU Student, I must say your missing some big things.

    1. PSU is essentially a 4yr community college, huge percentage of part time students. Lots of people who don’t really have aspirations of a degree ect.

    2. Students like me are the super minority, I started at PSU right out of high school, I lived on campus for 2yrs, and now I will graduate in 4yrs next month.

    3. PSU is not really meant to compete with OSU or UofO is a different model.

    However Wim Wiewel will face some major challenges namely that when comes in the PSU will be on strike. They are planning to strike July 1st.

    • Jerry

      If many of the students have no aspirations of a degree they sure could get this education for much, much less elsewhere. I find it somewhat difficult to believe that students would pay such high tuition for these classes absent any desire whatsoever to get a degree. Many, many schools (MIT for example) offer their classes online for free!

      If this is true, then hopefully they will take a personal finance or economics course soon.

      • devietro

        I dont disagree.

      • eagle eye

        Jerry, it would be interesting to see you take electrical engineering from MIT’s online course notes and then see how you’d do on an exam after 4 years!

        • Jerry

          I would never take such a course, nor would most, without the intention of obtaining a degree.

          • eagle eye

            Of course, you would have to go to MIT and pay $50,000/yr (or get a nice scholarship) to enroll in their program (assuming you could get in).

            Nobody gets a degree at MIT by reading their online notes. The notes are mainly for advertising. Free online degree from MIT is not an option for PSU students.

          • Jerry

            I guess you missed my whole point. If you are not going for a degree, which was the argument, then why pay high tuition?

          • eagle eye

            The point is, degree or no degree, most people need the pedagogy and structure of a formal program. If I want to pick up a little knowledge of multivariable calculus, say, MIT’s online notes are likely to be of little help (except possibly in impressing me how desirable a place MIT is to study).

            By the way, PSU is not exactly expensive, given the alternatives. I know of nothing that has lower tuition except the community colleges (which of course have a limited curriculum).

            Do you think non-degree people spend their money to go to PSU because they like throwing it away?

    • Jerry

      If, as you say, PSU is essentially a four year community college, then why don’t they charge community college tuition??

      • eagle eye

        Of course, PSU is not simply a community college, as anyone can ascertain by looking at their programs, or their student body makeup.

  • Dave Porter

    I welcome Wim Wiewel and wish him well. He has big challenges ahead.

    One challenge is to think about how to respond to China’s rise .Rep. Dennis Richardson and I wrote an Oregon Catalyst article titled “Oregon China – Opportunity for a Rising Generation” arguing for making more Mandarin programs a priority for Oregon’s educational system. During the lifetime of today’s students, China’s economy may grow to be 2-3 times the size of the US economy, with a modernized military to match. They will be a big challenge. Giving our next generations the skills needed to meet that challenge should be a priority.

    Unfortunately, Higher Education’s leaders in Portland, and across the state, do not yet understand this China challenge nor the strategic need to develop more Mandarin and study abroad in China programs. The Board of Higher Education’s Portland Higher Education Subcommittee, chaired by Jim Francesconi, presented their “Portland’s Higher Education Agenda for the 21st Century” document to the 2/8/08 meeting of the Board of Higher Education. In that document, there is no mention the enormous, historical changes taking place in Asia, nothing about the vastly changed economic and geopolitical situation today’s students will live in over their lifetimes, and no mention of the opportunities, threats, and challenges that a rising China presents.

    Wim Wiewel will need to rethink Portland’s higher education agenda. A big challenge!

  • Bob Clark

    I’m very glad Portland State University (PSU) existed when I was working and going to college in the 1970s. PSU is a working stiff’s college whereas many of the other colleges cited above are for those fortunate enough to have sizeable help from others. Maybe this stereotypes too much but this is my overall experience.

    Still, a yearly salary of some $350,000 for the PSU president seems too high, by perhaps one quarter to one third. I wonder what the salary is for say the president of Portland Community College.

    • eagle eye

      Like it or not, I think $350 K is probably on the low side for a place like PSU in the national market.

  • Karen Pederson

    Speaking as an employee of Marylhurst University, I would like to provide more background on the graduation rates Mr. Dawson relays in his article. The figures come from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which collects data on the cohort of “full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students” who enter the institution in the fall.

    As a university that primarily serves adult degree-completion students, IPEDS data reflect the only a small minority of Marylhurst University’s student body – less than one percent of Marylhurst students meet this definition. Therefore, the graduation rates Mr. Dawson quotes have little bearing on this University. While I do not have the actual numbers for Portland State, it is a fair assumption that likewise, Portland State’s true graduation rate is not reflected in the IPEDS data.

    Schools like Marylhurst University and PSU fill a niche that traditional colleges do not, making it possible for adults with work and family responsibilities to attain a college degree. Most Marylhurst students come in with transfer credits and attend part-time, taking classes evenings, weekends or online.

    In short, Mr. Dawson’s assertion is based on data that is, at best, misleading.

  • Jerry

    There was no attempt on my part to be misleading. I understand completely the IPEDS data. To clear up the “misleading” low graduation rate, then, of Marylhurst, perhaps you would be kind enough to share the overall graduation rate at Marylhurst. What percent of the other 99% of your students graduate with a degree in four years? In six years?

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