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CSU and CSULB push for increased four-year graduation rates

The mandate from Gov. Jerry Brown has left some to wonder if students will be properly be prepared for post-college life.

Caitlyn Mendoza, Staff Writer

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Graduating from college in the span of four years is a dream in 2016 — especially since almost 60 percent of students who enter college to pursue a bachelor’s degree graduate in six years, according to the Department of Education.

The California State University system, along with Gov. Jerry Brown, is pushing to increase the four-year graduation rate at all CSUs.

At Cal State Long Beach’s annual convocation address in August, CSULB President Jane Close Conoley discussed the mandate and current rates of four-year graduation.

“We have a new challenge from the governor…by 2025 our four-year-graduation rate must go to 39 percent,” she said. “It is currently at 15 percent and our average enrollment time is about five years.”

To help with the graduation rate increase, CSULB received a one-time 2.4 million grant from the state of California. Conoley said it is at the university’s discretion on how to divide up the funds.

According to to the Public Policy Institute of California, the CSU’s serve more than 460,000 students annually across its 23 campuses. As of fall 2015, CSULB enrollment was 37,430 students.

The PPIC’s website said that the CSU wants to “[increase] on-time graduation rates for freshman and transfer students-four years for freshman, two for transfers — closing graduation gaps between low-incoming students and their more affluent peers.”

Some students have expressed concern that this mandate could push students to unwanted career paths.

“I think a lot of people will end up with majors they do not like,” said Sarah Al-Hamadani, a sophomore who has yet to declare her major.

Ryan Westrick, a senior health care administration major echoed similar concerns.

“If a student wants to get out of here as soon as possible, they may pick anything that’s available or something that isn’t as strenuous to get out of here on time,” he said. “It might stop them from following their passion.”

Richard Marcus, a CSULB professor in the international studies department, said that while the mandate isn’t meant to produce unprepared graduates, there is a possibility of that happening.

“The CSU isn’t looking to push out unprepared students,” he said. ”It is looking to be more efficient, which, if not done carefully, can in effect push out less prepared students.”

Marcus said that there are ways to increase four-year graduation rates while protecting students from being unprepared.

“Student learning communities, summer bridge programs, undergraduate research programs, internship programs, peer mentoring programs –  most CSUs do at least some of these already and CSULB does all of these,” he said.  ”The question is whether these tools will be successful in protecting students at greater risk.”

President Conoley said that she wants to try to eliminate some remedial class requirements, which will allow students to fill their schedule with classes needed for their major and thus graduate in a more timely manner.

“No one would be pushed out,” she said, “but we wouldn’t be the barrier [for graduating on time].”

Conoley said that university is looking to repackage general education requirements into a more interdisciplinary way, – a “meta major,” as she called it.

This way, if a student decides to change his or her major, lower-level units will have a better chance of carrying over to the new discipline.

“Due to the rising costs of education, I think there is growing pressure for students to know what they want to do with the degree they are working towards and less opportunity for using the college experience to ‘find yourself’,” said Chris Lowe, professor of biological sciences at CSULB. “I think this is particularly true for the sciences and engineering, where the major course requirements are extensive and less transferable to other degrees.”

For students who plan on walking before they technically fulfill the unit requirement to graduate, Conoley said she wants to look into the possibility of subsidizing summer courses to help students get those last few units without spending another semester’s worth of tuition.

Additionally, Conoley said that the university will have a fully funded course schedule, and increasing summer and winter sessions will help those students who are already on the four-year pathway to succeed.

“I think adding classes and professors can help a lot,” Westrick said. “If they add more professors and classes, it’ll give us a better opportunity of getting classes and getting out of here in time.”

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