TrophySac State President Robert S. Nelsen says accepting the AASCU award on behalf of the University was one of his "greatest moments." (Photo courtesy of Jody Nelsen)

The national spotlight shined on President Robert S. Nelsen and on Sacramento State's academic advancement when on Oct. 28 he accepted an award for the University's efforts to keep incoming students on track to a timely graduation.

During a special awards presentation in Washington, D.C., the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) honored Sac State with the Excellence in Innovation Award, recognizing the University’s successful strategy to increase graduation rates and reduce achievement gaps.

The AASCU award was given to honor Sac State's “Finish in Four and “Through in Two” campaigns, part of California State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025 that aims to increase the number of incoming freshman and transfer students earning a bachelor’s degree in four years.

"I am tremendously proud of everyone at Sacramento State for the work we have done to help our students graduate on time," Nelsen said. "Accepting the AASCU Student Success and College Completion Award on behalf of the University is one of the greatest moments I have experienced.

"Together, we are making a difference, and I look forward to our continued success."

As part of the graduation campaigns, participating incoming freshman and transfer students pledge to take 15 units each semester – or 30 units per year, including summer classes – and in turn are provided academic and administrative support that has included the addition of new faculty members, hundreds of new course selections and thousands of classroom seats.

Jim Dragna, executive director of University Initiatives and Student Services but more widely known as Sac State's “graduation czar,” says financial incentives also add to the campaigns’ success with reports showing that students who graduate in four years instead of six save more money, earn more income and graduate with less debt.

“The ‘Finish in Four’ and ‘Through in Two’ campaigns at Sacramento State continue to demonstrate exceptional progress in inspiring students to complete their degrees in a timely manner,” Dragna said.

“In 2017-18, approximately 50 percent of first-year students successfully undertook 30 credit hours in an effort to stay on track to graduate in four years, compared to only 38 percent in 2015-16.”

Transfer students are achieving similar results, he says. In 2018, a record 37 percent of transfer students successfully completed their degrees in two years, a 10 percent increase over 2016.

The AASCU Excellence in Innovation Awards recognize initiatives that receive top-level administrative support, connect with an institution’s mission and strategic agenda, contribute to significant institutional improvements or programming, and are grounded in research and best practices. - Anita Fitzhugh