Cal State to push students toward graduation

Students attending California State University may be in for a dose of tough love as they are asked to choose majors more quickly, be more disciplined about attending class and be willing to sacrifice family time and outside activities to earn their degrees, several campus presidents said Wednesday.

They spoke during a meeting of Cal State’s Board of Trustees at which university officials formally announced an ambitious initiative to raise graduation rates, particularly for students who are from minority groups and low-income households.

Cal State is setting a goal of increasing its six-year graduation rate 8% by 2016, raising it to 54%, as well as cutting in half the achievement gap in degree completion by under-represented minority students. Each of the giant university’s 23 campuses is scheduled to have a plan in place by this fall.

Although each campus will implement a plan that fits the special needs of its student body, some common themes emerged Wednesday: Students will be given more individualized support such as counseling, more information about required course work and resources such as online tracking of their progress.


But the students will have to be more focused about their goals and understand that, given the university’s fiscal constraints, the longer they stay in school, the less opportunity there will be for others to enroll, the presidents said.

To some extent, campus administrators have been “enablers” for many students, allowing them to dawdle in choosing majors and progressing toward their degrees, Cal State L.A. President James M. Rosser said in an interview.

“We’re looking at how we’ve done our business and whether we’ve become too laissez faire,” he said. “In high school they have workshops on how to get to college. We want to tell students how to get out of college. That might mean some intrusive advisement.

“At Cal State L.A., previously if someone stopped [taking classes] we might not have had any contact. . . . We have an obligation to better inform students and to have a greater degree of personal contact.”

Schools also have to do a better job of showing students the advantages of completing degrees, said Albert K. Karnig, president of Cal State San Bernardino.

“There are tremendous sacrifices to winding your way to an undergraduate degree, and advantages and benefits to making those sacrifices,” Karnig told the trustees.

That message is especially important for communities that may not have a college-going tradition, he added in an interview. Of Cal State San Bernardino’s 17,600 students, for example, 70% come from families in which neither mother nor father went to college, he said.

In the Cal State system overall, according to officials, about 70% of students work, and many attend school part time. Obtaining a degree may require delaying jobs, marriages and children, Karnig said.


“We have to communicate to students the importance of staying in, of persisting, and it may mean doing without some things,” he said.

Some faculty members have raised concerns about measures included in the initiative, saying that plans to reduce general education requirements, for example, could lower standards.

But trustee Herbert Carter said that despite fiscal uncertainties, the university is moving to become a more student-centered system.

“Frequently, a crisis provides opportunity,” he said. “We should have focused on some of these areas in a more precise way some time ago.”