As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, APLU named California State University, Fresno; Cleveland State University; Montana State University; the University of California, Riverside; and Wayne State University as finalists for its 2016 Project Degree Completion Award. The annual prize works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion. One of the five finalists will be named the 2016 Project Degree Completion Award winner Sunday, November 13 in Austin, Texas during the APLU Annual Meeting. In this first part of a five-part series, APLU profiles California State, Fresno and its Graduate Rate Initiative.
In 2009, California State University, Fresno launched the Graduation Rate Initiative to increase six-year graduation rates and halve the achievement gap between underrepresented minority students and their peers by spring 2015, compared with the benchmark of spring 2006. A leadership team co-chaired by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs as well as the Vice President for Student Affairs led the effort.
The initiative also relied on limited funding since it began at the depth of a budget crisis. Starting with freshmen students entering in fall 2009 as the first cohort, California State, Fresno identified potentially high-impact practices and adopted them to test their efficacy. Those practices that proved successful became part of the initiative and were applied to subsequent incoming classes.
The program markedly increased retention. In fall 2010, the initiative expanded to focus on second-year students using a similar approach and did the same with third-year students the following year. In the fourth year, first-year transfer students were added to the initiative. First-year retention of the 2009 cohort was 6.4 percent higher than the previous year’s cohort and six years after the initiative started, cohort retention rates have remained above earlier levels.
The initiative also yielded graduation gains. The six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time freshmen went from 48 percent to 58.4 percent, and the freshmen achievement gap fell from 10 percent to 5.2 points – nearly halving the disparity. Meanwhile, the transfer graduation rate rose 5 percent and the transfer achievement gap fell from 6.7 points to 2.3 points.
Learn more about the other 2016 Project Degree Completion Award finalists.