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.