Gov. Brown Signs Bill Designed to Boost CSU Graduation Rates

SACRAMENTO -- Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills this week designed to help California State University students to graduate in four years.

The bills help community college transfers and university freshmen to cut down the time it takes to get a four year degree. That would clear room for more students to enroll in the university system where 30,000 applicants were turned away for lack of space.

The initiative is not lost on Sac State educators who were already concerned with a 9 percent four-year graduation rate.

Sac State officials say they found some of the causes of delayed graduation were financial issues confronting students from low income families and low expectations for students not prepared for the rigors of college study.

"Students, over time, had literally been advised by others, maybe even their families and others in the community, that taking a 15 unit load might be too much for them," said Sac State graduation director Jim Dragna.

Students need an average of 15 units per semester in order to graduate in four years. Falling behind in units as a freshman virtually guarantees that a student will take five or six years to graduate, costing them an extra $26,000 a year in student costs.

Sac State has long been known as a "commuter" college where students work their way through school.

Freshman Gary Singh says he heard as early as middle school that a Sac State degree in four years wasn't likely.

"The people who do it are usually people who don't work," Singh said. "They're usually four year students."

Singh has a part time job, so he says it will be hard for him to graduate in four years. And pre-nursing student McKenzie Gregoria says she has to compete with other students for the classes required in the program which can throw her off track to finish in four years.

"I'm hoping but I don't know if that's realistic," Gregoria said. "Probably more like five years."

Dragna says Sac State has already increased the number of classes in demand, added student support programs and tried to provide scheduling flexibility to encourage new students to take 15 units.

"Four years ago, only 17 percent of our first year students were taking 15 units in that first semester," Dragna said. "This year we're happy to say we're up to 62 percent. Now we have the majority of students on track to finish in four."

The extra support by the new legislation will add to the effort. It provides even more academic support and course priority for students who maintain a qualifying GPA.

The goal at Sac State is to raise the four year graduation rate to 30 percent in the next 10 years.