Top Graphic Design and Visual Arts School - Portland, OR

Students interested in studying graphic design or visual arts in Portland, OR, have only a few schools to choose from. Read about the top local schools' degree programs, tuition, and ranking info to find the right one for you.

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School and Ranking Information

In the Portland area, there are eight colleges offering graphic design and visual arts programs. These college options include small, private art schools, medium and large community colleges, and a large public university. Comparing program offerings, facilities, and rankings, the following three colleges are considered the top three schools in the Portland area:

  • Winner: Portland State University (PSU) ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News and World Report's up-and-coming schools category in 2013. PSU awards both undergraduate and graduate degrees in visual arts and has state-of-the-art labs for its graphics and visual arts students.
  • Runner Up #1: Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) offers bachelor's and master's fine arts degree programs, as well as a certificate program in communication design. PNCA houses a state-of-the-art digital design studio and hosts numerous opportunities for art and graphic design students to study abroad.
  • Runner Up #2: Portland Community College (PCC) offers several art and graphic design programs and houses an art gallery at each of its 3 campuses. PCC students graduate with a professional-grade portfolio.

School Comparison Chart

Category Portland State University Pacific Northwest College of Art Portland Community College
Rankings Rated #10 among up-and-coming national universities (2013) *
Graduate fine arts program rated #114 in the country (2012)*
Fine arts graduate program ranked 114th nationwide (2012)* N/A
Location Portland, OR Portland, OR Portland, OR
School Type 4-year, public 4-year, private not-for-profit 2-year, public
Tuition & Fees (2012-2013) $7,653 (undergraduate, in-state)
$22,863 (undergraduate, out-of-state)
$13,395 (graduate, in-state)
$20,235 (graduate, out-of-state)**
$32,064 (undergraduate)
$32,876 (graduate)**
$3,232 (undergraduate, in-state)
$7,696 (undergraduate, out-of-state)**
Graphic Design and Visual Arts Program Levels Offered Bachelor's and master's degrees Certificate; bachelor's and master's degrees Certificate; associate degrees
Graphic Design and Visual Arts Certificates and Degrees Awarded (All Levels) in 2011-2012 123** 68** 52**
Most Popular Graphic Design and Visual Arts Program in 2011-2012 Bachelor's in Studio Art Practice (59 awarded)** Master of Fine Arts (16 awarded)** Associate in Commercial and Advertising Art (29 awarded)**
Undergraduate Graduation Rate (in 150% of normal degree time) 42% (for 2006 entering class)** 22% (for 2006 entering class)** 13% (17% transfer-out rate) (for 2009 entering class)**
Noteworthy PSU's MFA in Art and Social Practice hosts a yearly conference with visiting keynote speakers On-campus Center 4 Design studio allows students to engage in faculty-supervised external professional work for program credit Art gallery housed on each of school's 3 campuses

Sources: *U.S. News and World Report, **NCES College Navigator.

Winner: Portland State University

  • Facilities include a darkroom, foundry, printmaking studio, digital media laboratory, and welding studio
  • 4 galleries located on campus
  • Graphic design students must own an adequate laptop with program-related software
  • MFA program incorporates weekly presentations from visiting artists
  • MFA students have 24/7 access to secured studio spaces

At Portland State University, students can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Graphic Design or Studio Art Practice, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Art Practice. At the graduate level, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program is offered in contemporary art practice. The bachelor's degree program in graphic design includes a portfolio review at the end of the second year, after which students choose an 8-credit track that focuses on either digital page design or interactive media, in addition to increasingly specialized coursework. Undergraduate students in the art practice program, which incorporates specializations in art practices and graphic design, take courses in areas including art history, drawing, critical theory, and studio arts during the first 3 years. The BFA curriculum takes place during the final year of the art program and involves a competitive portfolio-based application process. Students who pursue the BFA undergo intensive studio practice and produce a thesis exhibition at graduation. PSU's MFA curriculum comprises concentrations in studio practice and art and social practice and requires a final exhibition.

Runner-Up #1: Pacific Northwest College of Art

  • 2-semester post-baccalaureate residency program offered in media arts, design art, and studio arts
  • Numerous off-site and international study options available in places like Germany, Tokyo, Australia, and New York City
  • School-wide Focus Week occurs every semester to celebrate and devote attention to undergraduate senior thesis projects and presentations
  • MFA students are paired with mentors who provide one-on-one support for their final exhibition project or throughout the duration of their respective program

PNCA awards an undergraduate degree in communication design that encompasses study in interactive media, motion graphics, and typography, as well as branding and design history. BFA programs are also available in the visual arts disciplines of photography, sculpture, animated arts, printmaking, illustration, and painting. In all of the Bachelor of Fine Arts programs at PNCA, a final thesis project and related exhibition are required. PNCA offers full-time MFA programs in visual studies or print media, with the visual studies program also offered in a low-residency format that takes place over 3 or 4 summer terms. Additionally, PNCA offers 16-credit studio certificate programs in fine art and communication design that do not require a degree for entry. As an art-centered school, PNCA offers a number of programs that cover different areas and focuses of art, such as collaborative design, creative research, and general fine arts.

Runner-Up #2: Portland Community College

  • Computer labs are available for classwork during class time (students are not required to own a laptop)
  • Transfer agreement with Portland State University allows students to seamlessly transfer the graphic design associate degree to the PSU graphic design bachelor's degree program
  • Studios for sculpture, ceramics, painting, drawing, and printmaking available among the school's 3 campuses
  • Art gallery housed on each campus

Students can earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Graphic Design or Multimedia at PCC's Sylvania Campus in Portland. The graphic design program's curriculum encapsulates instruction in Macintosh computer basics, illustration, printmaking, web design, marketing, and digital imaging. Students may complete an internship for academic credit, and they can also expect to emerge from the program with a professional portfolio intact. The multimedia degree program incorporates instruction in drawing, scripting, multimedia graphics, and digital video editing; in addition, a year-long multimedia certificate program is available. Students may also complete the art transfer curriculum at PCC, which provides 2 years of preparatory courses available for transfer to a 4-year art program. Art classes are offered at all 3 of the school's Portland-based campuses and include instruction in sculpture, calligraphy, printmaking, painting, ceramics, photography, drawing, and art history.

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