Viewpoints

CSU graduation rates are up. Let’s shift the focus to what really matters – students

Graduation season usually conjures an image of caps and gowns, grinning graduates clutching diplomas.

It’s a huge achievement for our students and their families, and we, as faculty, find ourselves beaming with pride at their success this time of year.

We also know just how hard they have worked to walk across that stage – late nights cramming for exams, tackling subjects that challenge their thinking, and juggling schoolwork with jobs and family obligations.

Their degrees are hard earned. That’s why we, the faculty, are working hard to advocate for state reinvestment in our university system and allocations that will ensure the money is spent in ways that directly benefit our students.

Despite what we hear from some campus administrators and politicians who focus their talking points on the urgency of improving low graduation rates, we know that California State University graduation rates today are the highest they have ever been.

Opinion

Graduation rates in the CSU have been steadily increasing since the 1980s. According to a report by the CSU Chancellor’s Office on undergraduate outcomes, graduation rates in the system have never been higher – even when the student body was more homogeneous, affluent and predominantly white. Back then, college cost a fraction of what it does today. According to a recent California Budget and Policy Center report, the cost of attending a CSU is 1,360 percent higher than it was in 1979.

And yet, the Chancellor pushes a graduation initiative that does not acknowledge that students are graduating at higher rates even as they face increased costs to attend. It also ignores the fact that our students are increasingly students of color, the first in their families to go to college and more than half are considered low-income.

Instead, this graduation initiative aims to push our students harder and faster toward the goal of graduation without talking seriously about educational quality and while reducing the support they need to get there.

What’s more, the pressure is being turned up despite years of disinvestment by the state resulting in insufficient resources to ensure our students are able to follow their path to graduation. Students are increasingly struggling with mental health issues, yet the counselor-to-student ratio in the CSU falls far below the standard recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services – one counselor per 1,500 students. Of the 23 CSU campuses, only five meet that standard. The ratio of students to counselors at San Francisco State University is one counselor per 2,888 students, and at Cal State East Bay it’s one counselor per 2,450 students.

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Today, three out of five CSU faculty teach on part-time, temporary contracts. That means fewer full-time faculty to advise and mentor students and increased turnover of the faculty that students need.

Gov. Gavin Newsom demonstrated his support for CSU students and faculty earlier this month with a state budget proposal that would inject an additional $570 million into ongoing and one-time funding for the CSU system next year.

Now, faculty are looking to the Legislature to direct those funds in ways that would directly improve student outcomes – $20 million to improve student mental health services and $35 million in dedicated tenure-track hiring.

If we’re truly interested in student success, initiatives that provide the support that students need most – supportive faculty mentors and caring mental health counselors – are the ones that will help students reach their goals.

Jennifer Eagan is the immediate past president of the California Faculty Association and a Professor of Philosophy and Public Affairs and Administration at Cal State East Bay.
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