Portland State University is planning to help more people get a free education. The state’s largest urban university announced on Wednesday morning its latest tuition-free program, aimed at Oregonians who might not have been eligible for the two programs it already offers.
The Tuition-Free Degree program is an expansion of PSU’s previous Four Years Free and Transfers Finish Free programs. Those efforts, rolled out in 2016 and 2018 respectively, covered full-time Oregon residents whose incomes were low enough to qualify for federal Pell grants. The new program now also covers part-time students.
“From our very first days as a university, PSU has served nontraditional and working students,” PSU President Stephen Percy said in a statement. “The last few years of the pandemic have taught us that flexibility is essential for all of our students but especially those most in financial need. Our new Tuition-Free Degree program delivers on that flexibility and puts a college degree in reach for all.”
The new program covers tuition and most mandatory fees for those eligible students after other financial aid has already been applied.
The program builds on financial aid already given to students through state-run programs like the need-based Oregon Opportunity Grant, which covers some costs for students at private or public universities and colleges across the state.
Although most of Oregon’s public universities have seen student enrollment drop over the course of the pandemic, Portland State has seen one of the most dramatic falls — a roughly 16.5% drop in student headcount since 2018, according to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
Amanda Bierbrauer, PSU’s associate vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Finances, told OPB the university hopes the expanded program will encourage more students to enroll.
“We’re hoping to get the word out and that people who have been considering maybe returning to college, to PSU, to finish their degree, or want to work on it little by little will look into this and consider it an option,” she said. “As opposed to just being, ‘I’ve gotta go full-time and get this done in four years,’ it gives them the opportunity to progress on their degree at their own pace.”
Bierbrauer said the university isn’t worried about any potential financial downfalls from covering tuition for more students, especially since PSU had already been operating the two previous free tuition programs.
The new program also removes some deadlines for students. The previous free tuition programs required students to start in the fall. Tuition-free Degree will allow students to start at the beginning of any regular school term. The program will also cover students for more than four years if they need more time to complete their degree. Instead of having a limit of years in school, it will support students until they’ve attempted up to 225 credits.