California State University, Stanislaus


Graduation Initiative Planning Document


Known for its access, the CSU would like to be as well known for its success in graduating the students it admits. Whereas a student’s ability to enter the university depends on many factors the CSU cannot control, a student’s ability to depart from the university with a degree in hand is very much amenable to institutional influence.


— “Facilitating Student Success in Achieving the Baccalaureate Degree,”

Report of the California State University Task Force on Facilitating Graduation, December 2002



Background Context


Providing access to students is a primary mission for the CSU. This access implies that the attainment of the baccalaureate degree is a reasonable expectation for students willing to commit their best efforts to their studies and to engage the learning environment. Although CSU Stanislaus has a commendable graduation rate compared to other similar institutions, we are nevertheless committed to ensuring that our campus provides appropriate, thoughtful and purposeful services, programs, policies, and practices to support students in their academic success.


System-wide, there is evidence that the pathway to the degree is a variable process. Only one third of students achieving the required 120 units within four years graduate at that point. While time-to-degree is a concern, we must also focus on overall and eventual attainment of the degree. Approximately 30 percent of those beginning the CSU do not ever succeed in attaining a baccalaureate.


Given the increasing demand for higher education from a rapidly growing diverse population, the uneven academic preparation of entering students, the overall value of a college degree to the individual and to the community, the uncertain resources available to address student demand, and the public’s investment in higher education, it is particularly appropriate to examine how universities are facilitating student success in achieving a degree. To respond to these concerns, the Chancellor’s Office established a Task Force on Facilitating Graduation, which prepared an insightful document in December 2002, including recommendations for campus consideration. This document reflects many of the efforts already underway on the Stanislaus campus and energizes us to continue to improve. The plan contained in this report responds to the Task Force recommendation to “Develop a plan, based on local institutional research, to improve graduation rates. . .”



In keeping with the recommendations of the CSU Task Force Report, in fall 2003 a Steering Committee (comprised of the Chair of the Academic Senate, the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Vice Provost, and the Chair of the Academic Senate’s University Educational Policy Committee) identified individuals to work together in a collaborative process to develop a graduation initiative plan for the CSU Stanislaus campus (Attachment G).

The plan proposed by that task force was completed efficiently and is still undergoing campus review. Rather than a document in static form, it presently serves as a guidepost to continuing and developing student success initiatives. It will be evaluated regularly for effectiveness and applicability.



CSU Stanislaus Graduation and Retention Overview


CSU Stanislaus is a learning-centered institution with quality faculty and strong academic programs. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs sponsor a wide array of programs and services designed to ensure the likelihood of student success. There are already many excellent programs that foster student success; however, the University is committed to further improvements.


Retention Data


The retention rates of first year students returning for their sophomore year have steadily increased over the past ten years. The class entering in 1990 had a 75.6% return rate while 84.1% of the 2001 entering class returned. This percentage compares favorably to national norms of 68.1% for four-year public universities (based on 1999 entering class). Stanislaus students returning for the third year averaged 68.1% over the last three years (Attachment A).


Students with remediation status compare favorably with other students. Retention from first to second year as well as graduation in the fourth year demonstrate that students with remediation needs are as likely to be retained and graduate as other students (Attachment B). Current student support programs appear to be having a positive effect.


Differences in retention rates are small between African American, Hispanic and White students in terms of retention to the second year. African American enrollments are so small that numbers are difficult to interpret; however, their retention from first to second year has been comparable to the overall rates. Second year retention of Hispanics has been consistently higher than among White students.


Graduation Rates


The graduation rate for full-time transfers with 60 or more transfer units was 70% after three years for students entering in 1999 (Attachment D). The overall graduation rate of transfer students was 58% in 1996; this rate was 11.7 points above that of comparable institutions – a 25% better graduation rate than at comparable universities.


Graduation rates reflect the percentage of students completing their degrees in the CSU system within six years. “Persistence rates” describe those students who are still enrolled after six years and eventually finish their degrees. For freshmen entering in 1990, CSU Stanislaus had a 59.6% persistence rate – the 6th highest persistence rate in the system (CSU Stanislaus WASC self-study).


The current graduation rates compare well with universities in the state and other public universities of like size. According to the Chancellor’s Office report on graduation rates for first-time freshmen students entering in 1995, the overall six-year graduation rate in the CSU system is 42%. At 47.6%, the CSU Stanislaus graduation rate (for students entering as freshmen) is the second highest in the system (Attachment E). However, even though the graduation rate is quite favorable, there is still room for improvement.


Six-year graduation rates of Hispanic and White students vary by 7.8% (46.2% and 53.9% respectively). However, the six-year graduation rate for African American students is markedly lower averaging 23.3% over the last three years (Attachment C).



Graduation Plan Recommendations








The Graduation Initiative Plan Task Force has proposed recommendations in three broad areas :










Recommendation 1:


Ensure quality instruction and faculty-student connections by assessing the impact of the SFR on instruction and faculty-student interaction.


Rationale: Quality instruction and student connections with faculty and staff are crucial to student success and retention. Factors that might be considered to maintain and improve quality learning experiences for all students include the following:


1)   identifying opportunities for student-faculty interaction,

2)   supporting the development of department elaborations that clearly value faculty commitment to advising and engagement in student interaction,

3)   promoting faculty development in areas essential to quality teaching and in instructional strategies to reach a more diverse population,

4)   maintaining an appropriately strong ratio of tenured/tenured track faculty to part-time faculty,

5)   fostering learning communities and intensive learning experiences that facilitate student-faculty interaction such as the Honors Program, First Year Experience, and the Summit Program, and

6)   encouraging faculty to participate in learning communities.



Evaluation: Track the student-faculty ratio, faculty full-time to part-time ratio, and indicators of student-faculty interaction. Correlate these elements with student success and satisfaction in department and program reviews.



Recommendation 2:


Develop and promote the First-Year Experience.


Rationale: Research shows that students benefit from a sense of community that comes from a first-year experience. Participants in the Stanislaus pilot program to be implemented Spring 2004 will include an established cohort who experience linked courses (to highlight the connections across disciplines), coupled with appropriately trained and supervised peer mentors.


Evaluation: Utilize the FYE pilot assessment plan. This assessment plan includes measurement of the following factors:

1) improvement in reading, writing, information seeking, and study skills

2) increased retention and graduation rates

3) use of university resources/services more frequently and effectively

4) self-direction in pursuit of educational goals (selecting a major), and

5) engagement with the university.


These factors can also be measured through the use of the National Survey of Student Engagement and other tools currently being utilized on the campus.


Recommendation 3:


Examine the issues of linguistic diversity on campus in three areas:


1)   Student population: Knowing that many students come from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds, how can a campus utilize cultural values and conventions in order to help students learn within the academic culture? How can a diverse student body be used as a means of cultivating academic thinking and discourse?

2)   Programmatic design: Is the current placement/testing system for U.S.-resident English language learners in college writing programs successful?

3)   Classroom practices: What interventions and techniques might be considered in developing college writing curriculum for non-native speakers?


Rationale: The presence of a growing cohort of non-native speakers raises ethical and political questions regarding the acquisition of college-level writing skills and requirements. The campus would benefit from a systematic and dispassionate dialogue about the linguistic, cultural, and ethical issues that surround this issue.


Evaluation: Appropriate recommendations will be developed after the conclusion of careful study.


Recommendation 4:


Provide appropriate evaluation and assessment for student support services with the goal of improving student success.


Rationale: Current programs appear to enjoy positive anecdotal results in enhancing quality of life for students and retention and graduation. However, continued evaluation and assessment will be helpful in identifying best practices, student satisfaction, and planning implications. These programs include the following:


1)   Career Services

2)   Counseling Services

3)   Disabled Student Services

4)   Educational Opportunity Program (including the Summer Bridge Program)

5)   Faculty Mentor Program

6)   First Year Programs and Advising (including Re-Entry Services and Testing)

7)   Student Leadership and Development (in particular the Student Leadership Program)

8)   Student Support Services (TRIO grant)

9)   Supplemental Instruction (Title V grant)


Evaluation: Unit annual reviews will evaluate unit outcome objectives. The continuing CAS (Council for the Advancement of Standards) assessment is one useful tool already employed by those programs within Student Affairs. Resource-intensive programs with a specific clientele will conduct periodic review of student retention and progress rates of students in the programs. Retention and graduation rates for program participants will be monitored and compared to the campus rates.


Exception reports will be created when program reports indicate that outcomes are not achieved or retention rates are statistically indistinguishable from or inferior to those for the student body at large. These reports will trigger a qualitative review.








Recommendation 5:


Develop program 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation roadmaps to include GE requirements and major requirements for freshmen and transfer students by Spring 2005.


Rationale: There is great variability in pathways to degrees, which can create confusion for students, advisors and faculty.


Evaluation: Departments, working with Academic Affairs, will evaluate roadmap availability and student satisfaction to provide departments with feedback on a cyclical basis and as problems arise. The Office of First Year Programs and Advising may be called upon to assist as needed. Individual departments will provide follow-up on the outcome in the program five-year review.



Recommendation 6:


Review and implement advising improvements recommended from Advising Task Force and initiate degree audit.


Rationale: Academic advising is more than the transmission of facts. Students and advisors share the responsibility for both the nature of the advising relationship and the quality of the experience. Academic advising is a process and not a routine of course taking. Excellent advising promotes student development, increases student retention, and improves student satisfaction with the university. Advising helps students think through their futures, explore their talents and interests, and reflect on their values. Through this process, the students learn the sense of motivation and involvement that prepares them for a successful life. CSU Stanislaus has identified advising as an area needing increased attention. There are a myriad of advising pathways and sometimes inconsistent information. Furthermore, there is a sense that faculty advising is not valued consistently in all departments. Thus, it is appropriate to move forward purposefully to implement the recommendations coming in December 2003 from the already established Advising Initiative Task Force.


Evaluation: Utilize the student academic advising survey administered every two years by Institutional Research. The Enrollment Services unit will assess the process and outcome of degree audit services in its annual review. Identify one unit to oversee the evaluation of general education advising and address it the annual review. Departments will include advising outcome assessment in the five-year program review focusing on student, staff and faculty satisfaction.



Recommendation 7:


Ensure an accurate schedule and course availability through the following activities:


1)   synchronizing course offerings with the department graduation roadmaps,

2)   offering courses for day, evening, off-campus, and distance-learning students on advertised cycles,

3)   clearly indicating course offerings offered on a cyclic basis in the catalog.

4)   evaluating the schedule and catalog production cycle to ensure adequate time for final proofing by departments, and

5)   exploring greater use of electronic resources to increase timeliness and accuracy of information.


Rationale: Providing students and advisors with accurate planning tools and information improves the ability to plan for degree completion and encourages student accountability.


Evaluation: Implement a continuous quality improvement process that evaluates the schedule and identifies opportunities for improvement.
















Recommendation 8:


Foster strong communication and collaboration between University divisions and with students.


Rationale: There needs to be continuing and increasing dialogue among the various divisions of the university to improve communication and ensure that programs complement one another and facilitate retention and graduation. Cross-functional teams now address student success, remediation practices, and enrollment management (Student Success Center Committee, Remediation Committee and Strategic Enrollment Management Committee). These and similar committees need to be formed as problem areas are identified. These teams need to work together to resolve issues and improve processes that affect student retention and progress to degree as well as to address policies and practices regarding communication of university expectations and requirements to students in a direct but positive manner. The involvement of students is an important factor in meeting student needs.


Evaluation: Evaluate within unit annual reports. Assess retention and graduation rates in relation to changes in university practices. Regularly communicate activities and assessments of existing cross-function committees (above).



Recommendation 9:


Evaluate priority registration and other policies that may impact time to degree.


Rationale: Registration priority for seniors is intended to assist students who are close to graduation and in need of specific courses. However, some students in this priority group continue beyond a reasonable time without graduating. Extension of this priority status to some students may prevent other students from securing courses they need for timely graduation. The priority registration policy, which is unlimited at this time, and other policies should be assessed regarding their impact on time to degree.


Evaluation: Enrollment Services will evaluate enrollment priority policies in the unit annual report. Other policies will be evaluated by existing university committees (perhaps the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee or the Student Success Committee) in conjunction with the Academic Senate.





Recommendation 10:


Utilize University committees to review impact of course and program changes on progress to degree.


Rationale: College curriculum committees and the University Educational Policies Committee, along with the appropriate subcommittees under their charge, review curricular changes and new proposals for impact on retention and progress to degree. The following are existing committees and their potential roles in addressing this recommendation:


1)   College and UEPC: review of new programs, concentrations, and program revisions. Possible consideration of units needed for graduation, course unit load, and impact on progress to degree.

2)   APR (Academic Program Review Subcommittee of UEPC): consider the need to include a statement of impact on progress to degree and retention among the required contents of the 5-year review.

3)   OCDL (Off-Campus/Mediated Distance Learning Subcommittee of UEPC): consider the impact on progress to degree in course review and off-campus programs via mediated learning.

4)   GE Sub (General Education Subcommittee of UEPC): consider impact on progress to degree and retention in review of courses.

Evaluation: This is an on going evaluation process.

Recommendation 11:


Evaluate probation and remediation policies.


Rationale: Units need to review and assess all documents that address current probation and remediation policies and procedures. These policies need to support the integrity of academic degrees awarded by the university; however, they need to be reasonable and applied equally to all students.


Evaluation: Probation policies should be evaluated by a group including representatives of Enrollment Services, First Year Programs, and faculty governance. The cross-function Successful Remediation Committee should continue in its role of overseeing implementation of remediation policies. First Year Programs and Advising will ensure implementation of existing requirements to ensure compliance. First Year Programs and Institutional Research will provide data for review by Enrollment Services, Academic Affairs, and the Successful Remediation Committee.