Years of focus on improving student graduation rates is paying off for Cal State Long Beach (CSULB).
A recent report in The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that over the latest five-year period, graduation rates at CSULB have increased by 13 percentage points, tying it for the third best improvement in the nation among public masters institutions. In fact, only one public research institution had a higher increase than CSULB, meaning CSULB was tied for fourth best improvement of all public institutions in the nation regardless of category. The years studied were from 2003-08, and the CSULB rate increased from 42 percent to 55 percent.
“This is further evidence that our comprehensive efforts to graduate more students places us among the best in the nation. It also shows how committed our faculty and staff truly are to the ultimate goal of student completion,” said F. King Alexander, president of CSULB.
The rates are calculated as the percentage of first-time, full-time students who entered in the fall seeking bachelor’s degrees and completed those degrees within six years. The Chronicle compared rates for the six years ending in 2008, the most recent period for which comprehensive data are available, with the rates from five years earlier in 2003.
CSULB’s rank means that out of the 246 institutions in the masters category, CSULB was in the top 2 percent in terms of improvement. Also impressive was the size of the improvement. Comparatively, nearly half (44 percent) of the masters institutions increased by less than 5 percentage points whereas only about a quarter (27 percent) increased by 5 percentage points or more during the time period. Recent studies have also shown that CSULB is among the nation’s leaders in graduation rate improvement for underrepresented minority students.
Years ago CSULB initiated its strategic planning goals to increase its graduation rate to about 58 percent by 2012 and reduce the achievement gaps for low-income and underrepresented minority groups. CSULB established five task forces to: examine curriculum to simplify requirements and reduce the number of excess or unproductive class credits (units) needed to graduate; identify student support needs; ensure students receive proper advisement; explore faculty development to identify the most effective instructional methods that contribute to student retention and learning; and use research and evaluation to support other task forces with data.
Experts agree that there are many factors such as the ones mentioned above that effect graduation rates rather than just academic performance. Also, financial, family and job-related issues can have an effect.
More recently CSULB announced the “Highly Valued Degree Initiative” to assess campus progress in graduation rate efforts during recent years.
“Advisors, faculty, and staff have worked hard to improve student success at CSULB. We have succeeded in doubling graduation rates over the past decade. All of our gender and ethnic subgroups have participated in that improvement. We are now well above most other comparable institutions, but we aim to improve still more,” said David Dowell, vice provost and co-chair of the Highly Valued Degree Initiative.
The work by the task forces have led to increases in faculty mentoring, learning communities for students in specific disciplines, support programs for underrepresented minority students, curriculum improvements, innovative use of technology and other student academic support programs like Destination Graduation, which has received national acclaim, and Graduation Greenlight, which helps students stay on track as they move toward graduation.
CSULB graduation rates have been improving for more than a decade. From 1996 to 2009, its graduation rate nearly doubled to about 54 percent. Also, earlier this year CSULB was ranked sixth in the nation in conferring bachelor’s degrees to minority students by Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s annual list of the “Top 100 Degree Producers.”