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PNCA Dean's Corner

A message from Pacific Northwest College of Art's Jennifer Cole.

September 2023

Dear PNCA Alumni, Parents, & Friends,

One of my ongoing points of pride is the commitment of Willamette and PNCA to broad college access. This is reflected in the incredible incoming student class of 2027. This fall we welcomed 180 first-time and transfer students to campus—our largest new class in nearly a decade. These students reflect a wide range of intersectional identities that they bring with them to PNCA.

  • 54% of students are from out of state (22 total states + international students)
  • 46% of students are from Oregon
  • 43% of students identify as Students of Color, a 5% increase from Fall 2022, 23% of students identify as 1st Generation College Goers, a 13% increase from Fall 2022
  • 40% of students are Pell Eligible or come from high-financial-need families
  • 20% of students have an approved disability plan 

Our focus is and must be that all students can learn. This is critical because artists and designers shape our narratives, our visual landscape, the devices we use, and the characters we come to love and hate on pages and on screens. This landscape of imagination must be shaped by humans who see the world from divergent and complex vantage points. To do that, at PNCA, we must deeply commit to supporting these students in their journey through college. In the last two years, we have been laser-focused on not only recruiting a deeply diverse student body but on ensuring their success at school. 

We have two overriding objectives–to improve overall retention–particularly from the first to the second year at the undergraduate level and to increase what we call “persistence” or degree/program completion. To do this, we have initiated a framework we call Academic Wellness. 

Last year, we appointed our first leadership-level position focused on student success. Assistant Dean for Academic Success, Sally Schoolmaster, a long-time faculty member and first-generation college graduate, coordinates the cross-college Academic Wellness Team. This team includes staff focused on Accessible Education, Advising, Tutoring, Writing, and Health Access. The team identifies early intervention strategies for students who struggle academically and creates programs, workshops, and support systems to make sure our students thrive. Some early wins from this approach:

  • Last year 100% of our first-year students met with our Academic Advisor to review their major options and to create a graduation plan.
  • We launched our first Academic Recovery program that combines 1-1 meetings, tutoring sessions, and personal action planning for students who are on academic probation. This support saw 54% of those students move off probation in one semester.
  • We launched the Academic Support Center– a physical drop-in space where students can take time management, study skills workshops, have a drop-in study hall, and sign up for tutoring and coaching appointments. 
  • We are piloting our first-ever Writing Studio—led by faculty member Mollie Nouwen. Through the writing studio, we offer peer writing workshops and have three graduate teaching assistants who serve as writing coaches. 

We are seeing early wins. Our overall undergraduate retention rate improved from 38.4% in 2020 to 65.2% in 2022. Our goal is to move past 75% by 2025 and we are on our way!

Student persistence is complex. Students leave college for many reasons–financial, health, family obligations, shifts in interest, and not feeling connected. We are rapidly working to create a network of approaches aimed at persistence including increased financial aid, expanded student “CARE” case management processes, more internship and work-study opportunities, and focus on building a strong sense of community and belonging, particularly with commuter and transfer students. This is big, complex work, and at the center are the next generation of visionaries, poets, storytellers, and creators. We need them in our world and alumni, friends, and supporters of PNCA can help us do this! If you are interested in learning more about our efforts or how you can support us please contact me at


Jen Cole
Jordan Schnitzer Dean

Dean Jen Cole Photo

Jen Cole, Jordan Schnitzer Dean, PNCA

Willamette University

Alumni and Parent Engagement

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-375-5304 voice
503-370-6830 fax