Sac State president launches similar plan ahead of bill signing
Originally published by the State Hornet online Sept. 13, 2016 and in print Sept. 15, 2016
New legislation that passed through the state legislature last month would, if signed by Gov. Brown, require select California State University campuses to implement a program to help improve graduation rates.
Senate Bill 412, the “California Promise,” formerly SB1450, aims to help certain groups of first-year freshmen—including low-income students and underrepresented minorities—earn their degree in four years and community college transfers complete their baccalaureate program in two years.
“It would allow students who sign up to get priority registration and enhanced academic advising,” said Steven Harmon, spokesman for Sen. Steve Glazer of California, the main sponsor of the bill and a former CSU Trustee. “Now, the students would have to fulfill a commitment of their own and that is that they’d have to take 30 credits an academic year [or the equivalent in the quarter system] and also maintain a GPA, and that’s to be determined by the campuses.”
Though the bill does not have any funding attached to it, Harmon pointed out that the CSU is receiving $35 million from the state to set up programs to improve graduation rates and that portions of that could be used in the implementation of SB412.
“Everything from there has yet to be determined in terms of what [individual campus] criteria will be,” Harmon said. “There would be a minimum of 15 campuses that would have to receive community college transfers into [the] program by the fall of 2017 and eight of those campuses would have to take in freshmen who would do a full four year commitment in the program.”
A similar program has already been implemented at Sacramento State. The “Finish in Four” program, which began this semester, requires participants to take 30 units per academic year—this can be spread across fall, spring, summer and the winter intersession. The program can also be participated in by transfer students who want to finish in two years.
In addition to being offered incentives like discounts in the bookstore and lower costs for summer classes, participants must also maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA and meet with an adviser at least once in both the spring and fall, according to Executive Director of University Initiatives and Student Success Jim Dragna.
The Sac State program does not grant participants priority registration, but Dragna said the college opened up thousands of additional seats in many popular courses this year.
“What we’d like our outcome to be is that students finish in a timely manner and they leave here as distinguished and distinguishable as Sac State graduates,” Dragna said. “There’s a great tie-in, not only in terms of the time to graduate, but a well-documented understanding for the students about how they’ve learned here and of what they’ve learned that really sets them apart. It’s not just about the content of the courses, but it’s also about those global outcomes that we would like to see our students develop.”
Sixty-two percent of the approximate 4,000 incoming fall 2016 freshmen are participating in Sac State’s “Finish in Four” program. Though Sac State President Robert Nelsen says it will literally take four years to measure the program’s initial success, he says the college is already seeing indicators that suggest an increase in timely graduation.
“I have been impressed with the commitment from not only our students to do what is required of them, but our faculty and staff, as well, to provide the tools and support systems they need to succeed,” Nelsen said of the initial success of the program. “Sac State has the potential to be a model for the CSU and the nation for improving graduation rates.”
During President Nelsen’s Fall Address, he stated that his program’s goal is a 30 percent four-year graduation rate for freshmen—currently eight percent—and a 38 percent two-year graduation rate for transfer students—currently 26 percent. These rates are mandated by the CSU system to be met by 2025, according to information provided by Dragna.
“Even among the students who are considered nontraditional, the ones who have other responsibilities such as a job or raising a family, they have shown an eagerness to carry full loads so that they head toward a four-year degree,” Harmon said. “To me, that’s a lot of promise out there that has been shown by students in the CSU system that there’s a willingness and eagerness to get done in time, so it’s the system’s responsibility to provide the tools for those students to get through.”
For Susan Gubernat, an English professor at CSU East Bay and a member of the CSU Academic Senate, who wrote a recent editorial for the Sacramento Bee outlining her many concerns with SB412, the bill is avoiding the real problem, which she says is the underfunding of the CSU system.
“The [legislature] doesn’t want to spend more money right now on higher education,” Gubernat said. “It doesn’t like statistics that say it takes longer than four years to graduate, so it has to come up with these false solutions to real problems. We are in a system that continues to function at [a] shortage [in funds] with tens of thousands of more students, so the answer to the problem is to fund the CSU adequately so that enough classes can be given [and] enough advisers can be hired.”
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