CSU raises its graduation goals

CSU chancellor Timothy White talks with students and staff at Sacramento State University on May 3.
CSU chancellor Timothy White talks with students and staff at Sacramento State University on May 3.

College graduates matter. California’s economy, society and democracy rely on an educated population. Yet, California faces a looming shortage of 1 million bachelor’s degrees in the next 10 years.

The California State University system produces about half of the state’s bachelor’s degrees, which means the CSU share of the shortfall is about 500,000 additional graduates.

This projected degree drought should alarm us all and drive us to act. While students are responsible for earning their degrees, we are collectively responsible for clearing the pathway to those degrees.

First, the state must provide adequate resources. Second, the CSU must provide excellent learning environments with enough courses and academic support programs for students to succeed. Third, elementary, middle and high schools, alongside community colleges, must prepare students for the rigors of a university education. Fourth, students themselves and their families must assure preparedness, with the resolve to succeed academically.

At the CSU we take seriously our role in getting students to commencement. This has meant a relentless focus on improving graduation rates. The CSU launched the Graduation Initiative in 2009 to evaluate and improve the ways we serve our students. Thanks to the work of our students, faculty and staff, more CSU students earn their bachelor’s degrees in four years and six years or less than ever before. The median time to graduation is less than five years.

Yet the California degree drought cannot be solved by one success. Tuesday, the CSU announced Graduation Initiative 2025, setting new targets. Among other aims, we will double four-year graduation rates, while making further improvements in rates for six years or less and for students transferring from community colleges.

I previewed Graduation Initiative 2025 in January as part of my State of the CSU speech. Since, CSU leaders – including trustees, faculty, students and staff across the 23 campuses – conducted a thoughtful review of where we are today and where we can go from here. Their charge was to set goals that are bold, aggressive and appropriate to the needs of California.

The Board of Trustees considered the new graduation targets alongside a new budget proposal. The connection is unavoidable. Big gains in graduation come through increased access to courses and to one-on-one contact, academic support and mentoring from faculty, academic advisers and student support professionals. These strategies are pivotal to improve graduation rates.

Institutions often set audacious goals, but they don’t succeed without investment. Giant leaps forward require resources. This is true for California’s technology, agriculture, medicine and aerospace industries. It is equally true for backbone of these industries – education. The CSU is doing all it can with existing resources, but efficiencies and cost-cutting alone will not provide sufficient resources to meet the Graduation Initiative 2025 goals.

The trustees are considering an initial state appropriation increase of $326 million for 2017-18 that includes $75 million for the new graduation initiative. This request reflects our needs and the resources required to begin achieving our ambitious goals. We require sustained, realistic state investment that provides fiscal stability, while addressing needs and goals in student success, timely graduation and academic infrastructure.

Together, and only together, will we meet California’s increased need of more than 1 million college graduates by 2025.

Timothy P. White is chancellor of the California State University. He can be contacted at