Sacramento State's work to significantly improve graduation rates is just one of the reasons why Money.com named it among the "Best Colleges for Your Money." (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Cynthia Hubert
Sacramento State ranks among the nation’s top universities based on criteria analyzed by Money.com in its 2020 “Best Colleges in America” issue.
The publication's annual “Best Colleges for Your Money” report offers an analysis of 739 four-year colleges, ranking them based on their value to students and their families.
Fifteen of the CSU’s 23 universities made Money's top 100.
“For us, it’s confirmation of the work that we do,” said Sac State’s graduation czar, James Dragna. “It’s another way of measuring our success along variables that we can compare and contrast to other universities.”
The list also gives students and their families a glimpse of the University’s strengths and can help them decide “why Sac State makes sense to them in the context of their lives and backgrounds,” he said.
The American Institutes for Research led data collection and analysis for the report. Money’s editorial staff made the final ranking decisions based on 27 factors in three broad categories: quality of education, affordability and outcomes such as employment and earnings for graduates.
Sac State leaders said they were particularly proud of the University’s high ranking in the “transformative” category, given the University’s focus on students who are the first in their families to attend college, who did not excel in high school or are financially stressed, among other challenges.
“It’s not surprising that elite schools report high graduation rates or alumni success,” Money’s editorial staff wrote. “What’s impressive is when students beat the odds by doing better than would be expected based on their academic and economic backgrounds. We call this a college’s value add.”
Sac State’s “value-added” scores for graduation rates, earnings, and student-loan repayment placed it at No. 9 on the magazine’s list. Six CSUs were in the top 10.
“Our students are achieving more than what their backgrounds might suggest,” said Dragna. “Isn’t that the promise of the CSU and Sac State?
“We have the opportunity to transform lives by offering access to students of all backgrounds who also are talented and hardworking. We have a talented faculty and a talented and supportive staff. If you give these students a chance, they will succeed.”
Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, Sac State’s associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success, called the University’s showing in the Money report “an amazing honor.”
“The University provides a world-class education while helping to support and engage students by fostering a strong sense of belonging,” she said. Sac State “clearly is changing the lives of students.”
Among the key programs offering support to various student communities are the First Generation Institute, the Migrant Student Leadership Institute, the Guardian Scholars Program, and the Educational Opportunity Program.
More than a third of Sac State’s students are the first in their families to attend college. Nearly 60% receive state or federal financial aid. The University’s tuition and fees are about $7,500 annually, far less than many four-year colleges. Students can take advantage of government grants, work study, scholarships and loans to help fund their educations.
“The CSU mission of ‘open access’ to all is a big part of what we do,” said Anita Kermes, Sac State’s director of Financial Aid and Scholarships. “We have such a diverse student population.”
The University is making strides academically. Sac State has improved its four-year graduation rate to 20.4%, an increase of 127% since 2016. It has seen significant improvements in two-year graduation rates for transfer students and in the percentage of students who finish in six years. That means students incur less debt and can enter their chosen careers more quickly.
“The higher we are able to raise those rates, the better we are serving our students,” Dragna said.
Despite the recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to a mostly virtual learning environment, Sac State continues to find ways to help students pursue their degrees, Dragna said.
Faculty have become creative in delivering virtual lectures and labs. More students can enroll in online classes that in the past have been less accessible because of space and time restrictions. The University’s new “Hornet Launch” system, broadly known as strategic scheduling, is making registration for classes more efficient.
Under Hornet Launch, Sac State plans and recommends courses for the freshman class based on surveys of their education priorities and areas of interest, as well as their responsibilities outside of coursework. The new approach allows more students to get classes when they want and need them the most.
“Our entire University is dedicated to working with students to help them succeed,” Dragna said. “It’s a good time to be in school, and an even better time to be at Sacramento State.”