CSUS prods students to graduate more quickly

Published: Saturday, May. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 28, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Sacramento State will graduate 4,600 students in ceremonies ending today – 837 more than last spring.

A rebounding job market could be the reason more students are graduating, or skyrocketing tuition, but it also could be the CSU Graduation Initiative put in place in 2010.

The initiative was designed to combat low graduation rates within the California State University system, where only 15 percent of the students who started classes in 2007 graduated in 2011, according to the latest state data.

"Finishing is much more clearly the goal," said California State University, Sacramento, Provost Charles Gossett.

Sacramento State had one of the lowest graduation rates among the state's 36 public universities, with only 8 percent graduating in four years, according to the data.

But the culture is changing.

Gossett said department chairs now meet with students with "excessive units" to help them put together a plan to graduate. Generally, 120 units are required for an undergraduate degree. Students with 134 or more units are targeted for counseling.

"This has really gotten faculty, students and staff focused on the idea that our goal is to get students to graduate," Gossett said. "Everyone takes responsibility for students to move toward graduation, which may not have been as true before."

Some students interviewed at Friday's College of Business Administration graduation didn't seem to be aware of the initiative.

Megan Gilmore, 22, of San Diego was on the sidelines selling flowers. She was supposed to graduate Friday but decided instead to switch majors. She is wrapping up her fourth year at Sacramento State and plans to spend another 1 1/2 years at the university.

She blames the delay on "poor guidance" from counselors and "poor planning" on her part.

Toan Ngo, 23, graduated Friday after six years at the university. "I spent the first two years fooling around," he said.

Ngo, who switched his degree to accounting in his third year, said he "never felt a pressure to graduate."

Recently, the pressure to move students through the system more quickly has increased. Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget includes a proposal to cap the number of units students can take at the cheaper, in-state tuition rate in order to get more students through college faster.

The pressure also has come from students struggling to find seats in needed classes. Students at Sacramento State found it nearly impossible to graduate in four years after budget cuts – equaling $4,000 in reductions per student over four years – reduced class offerings.

And more students are clamoring to attend. Sacramento State saw a 6 percent jump this year in the number of students who applied for the fall semester.

Campus officials say they are responding – adding classes during the school year and summer that have been "bottlenecks to students," Gossett said.

Not everyone is happy about the push to move students more quickly toward graduation.

"We did run into some resistance (from some students)," Gossett said.

The university already has an administrative drop policy that allows it to "graduate" a student who has enough units but who hasn't applied for graduation. Gossett said that tactic hasn't been used much in past years but may be used more regularly in the future. This semester, two students were "graduated" with this policy.

Climbing tuition, which increased from $1,927 a semester in 2008 to $3,314 this year, also may be moving students through the system faster.

A year at Sacramento State costs about $24,000 for students living on campus, according to university estimates. Lost wages during an extra year in school can range from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on a student's career path.

Gilmore, who delayed graduation, said the increased cost won't encourage her to finish up faster. "I'm not going to settle for any degrees," Gilmore said. "The cost – it's unfortunate – but at least I will have my education that will get me a job."

Students are more aware of the costs and how it can pile up into debt, Gossett said.

Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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