Transfer students a focus as PSU rolls out new Students First programs and services

Transfer students can expect a smoother journey through college thanks to tailored advising and close collaboration between community colleges and Portland State University.

“Our success is basically built on a foundation of the success of our community colleges,” says Provost Susan Jeffords. “And we are lucky to have amazing community colleges in Oregon. Our hands are joined in the service of our students.”

No other university in Oregon serves more transfer students than PSU. The enhanced services for transfer students — who comprise 60 percent of PSU’s degree-seeking undergraduates — are part of a university-wide initiative known as Students First, which aims to help students persist in college year-to-year and through graduation.

Students First tackles several factors that contribute to a student’s success: affordability, student experience, persistence, early interventions and academic excellence. 

“In recent years, some have begun to question the value of a college degree,” says Steve Percy, interim president of PSU. “We are confident that a college degree remains the best path to a brighter future, especially for students who are historically underserved.

“That’s why we are focusing on Students First and directing our energy and resources toward helping students to stay on track, graduate, and launch their careers. We are delivering on the investments our students make in themselves and delivering on the investments that the state makes in us.”

Higher education leaders joined Percy this month to celebrate the grand opening of the Transfer and Returning Students Resource Center, a space that gives transfer and returning students a supportive home base to help with the transition to PSU. 

“Transfer students enrich our campus enormously,” Jeffords says. “They are PSU, and they need unique support to navigate college.”

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Students such as Espinosa and freshman Taiyah Marshall help staff the front desk at the center, and they say it’s personally satisfying to point their confused or anxious peers in the right direction.

“So when people come in and they’re gasping for breath and saying, ‘My life is over,’ we’re able to say, ‘No, it’s not. Here’s what you need to do,’” Marshall says.

Nearly 44 percent of PSU transfer students begin their education at Portland Community College, and one in 10 students who earn a bachelor’s degree in Oregon comes through PCC and PSU.

“We’re continuing a tradition of democratizing higher education and creating opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t have them,” says Mark Mitsui, president of PCC.

Mitsui says PCC is in a three-year period of grouping courses together to form clear paths through college into careers or transfer majors. PCC is also developing better tools for advising and will require students to work with an advisor. 

“This center is an incredibly important link in that evolution,” Mitsui says.

To make the transition to college easier, PSU has hired advisors who will spend at least half of their time on local community college campuses. They will provide students a friendly connection to PSU and field questions about how students can choose classes that will position them for success after they transfer.

“We want our transfer students to feel welcome at PSU before they ever set foot on our campus,” Percy says.

Story by Paige Parker
Photos by Bruce Bradbury