graduation capAs the largest college system in the nation, the California State University system has traditionally set targets using a six-year graduation rate for its students. However, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that in order to continue to obtain improved state funding, the system must graduate more students, and faster.

According to the most recent national federal data, 34.4 percent of students who began attending a four-year public university in 2008 graduated in four years, but only 19.1 percent of CSU students graduated in the same amount of time.

Many top ranking state education and economic officials consider graduating students in four years vital to meeting California’s future economic needs. Indeed, a 2014 Public Policy Institute of California report found that by 2025 the state could experience a major shortage of workers with a college degree if graduation rates stay where they are. Additionally, a four year plan makes a degree much more affordable for students by significantly reducing tuition costs and other related fees.

Cal State’s ambitious new plan to improve graduation statistics, entitled Graduation Initiative 2025, focuses on doubling its four-year rates, all while reducing the gap between white students and students of color.

However, many of Cal State’s 474,000 students take longer to earn their degrees because they attend classes part time to balance school with work and family responsibilities. To keep pace with this set of students, the initiative also lays out six-year graduation rate goals, as well as goals for transfer students.

Based on their current graduation rates, each of Cal State’s 23 campuses will also have its own individual goals. James Minor, a former assistant secretary from the U.S. Department of Education who is now leading the graduation initiative effort, stated “If successful in achieving these goals, it will place the [Cal State system] as a national leader in providing high-quality, affordable education.”

Administrators have already identified several strategies to get students through the whole degree process in four years. They include encouraging students to take a full course load, hiring additional faculty to teach high-demand “bottleneck” classes that students need to graduate, and providing extra support to students, such as more academic advisors and private tutors.

Cal State board members also plan to discuss a preliminary support budget request of an additional $168.8 million from the state for the 2017-18 school year. The extra funding would support the CSU graduation initiative by paying for such expenses as increased costs for new professor salaries and upgraded facilities. Regardless, all Cal State students will rejoice in the news that even if the additional state funding fails to come through, there are no current plans to increase student tuition to pay for the graduation initiative.

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