Portland State University pledges 4-year degree guarantee

PORTLAND, Ore. — The overwhelming majority of students at Oregon’s largest public university spend more than four years getting a degree. The results are more debt and fewer seats in prerequisite classes.

Portland State University says they have an answer: a four-year degree guarantee. The “guarantee” part is on the student, of course, who must maintain a 2.0 GPA and meet with an adviser.

The university only assures that it will have the necessary courses available, and if core curriculum classes fill up, the school promises students it will not charge them for the extra semesters it takes them to graduate.

“It’s smart scheduling and giving students more advising so that they can see it’s possible to finish on time,” said university president Wim Wiewel. “That alone will give them an incentive to finish on time.”

The University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., was among the first to incorporate a degree guarantee in 1992. Since then, dozens of public and private universities have put it to use in their curriculum — and their marketing.

“Undergrad admissions really sells this as a benefit of coming to Pacific,” said school spokesman Richard Rojo. “The thing is, all of our faculty and staff and advisers know it’s our job to meet the four-year guarantee, so they do what they need to do” to achieve it.

Rojo said preliminary research of school records showed it was “highly unusual” for students using the guarantee to stay longer than four years, and found only one case in a quick search.

For PSU students, there will be no limits on the number of years the school will pay for extra semesters, provided the students meet the required GPA and stay on their stated schedule.

PSU Provost Sona Andrews said the school doesn’t believe it will suffer any financial liabilities as a result of the guarantee, and said the school did not require permission from the Oregon University System, which oversees state universities, to make the move.

Fourteen private, non-profit universities have offered the model since 2008, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Public universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan have offered similar programs.

The move will also mean some electives will be cancelled, though a spokesman said the school hadn’t yet determined the electives on the chopping block.

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