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Sac State graduation rates rise for sixth straight year, representing largest jump in the CSU

Sac State graduates from the College of Heath and Human Services and College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies cheer and celebrate during the May 21, 2022, Commencement ceremony at Golden 1 Center. (Sacramento State file/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State’s graduation rates increased for the sixth year in a row, keeping the University on track to exceed the CSU’s goals for the number of students earning their degrees in a timely manner.

The number of students who graduated in four years rose to 28.1% this year, compared to just 9% in 2016, when Sac State launched its Finish in Four and Through in Two campaigns. That improvement is the largest among the CSU’s 23 campuses.

The CSU’s goal for Sac State is a 30% four-year graduation rate by 2025, a mark that is well within reach, said James Dragna, executive director of University Initiatives and Student Success.

“This type of consistent progress demonstrates that we are creating a culture of success,” said Dragna. “Our four-year graduation rate continues to climb at a consistent level each year regardless of external issues,” including disruptions caused by nearby wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sac State already has exceeded the CSU’s goal of graduating 38% of transfer students within two years, achieving a 40.6% mark this year. The University’s graduation rates in 2022 improved nearly across the board, including among Black, Latinx, and first-generation students.

“Earning a degree from the California State University transforms lives." -- Interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester

Graduating on time benefits students, their families, and the region where they will put their skills to work, President Robert S. Nelsen said.

“The continued rise of our graduation rates is a testament to the efforts of our faculty and staff, and to the hard work and dedication of our students, who persevered through unprecedented challenges to graduate in four years,” said Nelsen. “Our students and their families have saved millions of dollars in total cost of attendance and debt, not to mention increased earnings from entering the workforce more quickly.”

The CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 is paying dividends throughout the system, said Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester. In 2022, 35% of CSU students earned their bachelor’s degrees within four years, nearly doubling the rate since the initiative launched. The system’s 2025 goal is 40%.

“Earning a degree from the California State University transforms lives,” Koester said in a recent press release. “A CSU degree not only prepares students for success in their professional careers, but it also elevates their families and positively impacts the communities where they live and work.”

Sac State’s successes are the result of programs and policies that eliminate administrative barriers and create a more efficient path to graduation, said Dragna.

One example is its approach to students who face suspension because of academic or financial “holds” such as unpaid tuition or fees, said Dragna. Rather than take a “punitive approach,” he said, the University works with students to resolve their issues and keep them on track.

“They are responding,” Dragna said. “Students want to succeed. They just need some additional help and support.”

Other changes include adding thousands of high-demand courses that are necessary for graduation, while eliminating remedial courses that do not earn credit.

In addition, the Hornet Launch program plans and recommends courses based on students’ goals and interests, placing them on a clear path to graduation. The program’s success has led campuses across the CSU system to adopt a similar approach.

One of Sac State’s focuses in the future will be its “super seniors,” who despite completing 130 or more units – more than typically needed to graduate – have yet to earn their degrees. “We want to contact these students, and find ways for them to graduate,” Dragna said.

The University also is concerned about a significant “gender gap” showing that female students graduate at significantly higher rates than males, he said.

But overall, the latest data are promising and bode well for the future, said Dragna.

“We have been a model for success,” he said, noting that the University has received national recognition for its efforts. “Our gains have been significant and steady. It’s a unique story.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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