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Sac State has tools in place to help enrollment, grad rates rebound after slight decline

Sacramento State's enrollment and graduation rates dipped slightly in 2023, but gains are expected as the University's focused efforts continue. (Sacramento State file/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State’s most recent enrollment and graduation rates fell – slightly – in 2023, suppressed by lagging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and interrupting trends that had carried both measurements to historic heights.

The University, however, expects renewed growth as it steps up efforts to contact students at risk of missing registration deadlines, and works to ensure that enrolled students graduate in a timely manner.

The challenges of studying from home and other pandemic-caused hardships may have slowed academic progress for many students, said Steven Salcido, associate vice president of Enrollment and Engagement.

This fall, 30,193 students enrolled at Sac State, about 700 fewer than the previous year, data show.

“The drop in enrollment we are now seeing represents students that we lost during the pandemic,” which caused a widespread switch to online classes beginning in March 2020, Salcido said. The pivot to an online learning environment plus financial difficulties and other issues related to the pandemic likely caused many students to leave college in 2020 and 2021, he said.

Today, most courses at Sac State are held in person.

"We’re using multiple modes of communication: texts, phone calls, mailers to students and parents. Sometimes, they just need a little reminder to get them re-enrolled." -- Steven Salcido, associate vice president of Enrollment and Engagement

To keep enrollment stable, the University is using a “high touch” approach, contacting hundreds of students who have missed registration dates and working with them to complete the process, Salcido said.

“We’re using multiple modes of communication: texts, phone calls, mailers to students and parents,” he said. “Sometimes, they just need a little reminder to get them re-enrolled.” In other cases, students are facing financial, mental health, or other barriers that members of the University can help them address.

The Student Service Center within the Division of Enrollment and Engagement is leading the effort, but various departments, staff, and faculty members also are involved, Salcido said. “Enrollment has become a University-wide effort,” he said.

Pandemic challenges also have affected Sac State’s four-year graduation rate, which reached a record 28.1% in 2022. The 2023 rate slipped to 27.8% , falling for the first time since the University launched its “Finish in Four” and “Through in Two” initiatives in 2016.

The two-year graduation rate for transfer students remained stable at 40.6 percent.

Administrators say they expect Sac State’s enrollment and graduation numbers to climb again as the pandemic’s impact on students recedes and the University develops more ways to help them successfully engage with college.

A student works on a laptop in the University Library.
Sacramento State's Hornet Launch, which helps students enroll in classes they need, and direct communication to remind students to re-enroll are two of the ways the University is working to improve enrollment and graduation rates. (Sacramento State file/Jessica Vernone)

A significant support mechanism continues to be Hornet Launch, which started in 2020 and is built on the University planning and recommending courses for new students based on their educational priorities and interests, as well as their responsibilities outside of college. Hornet Launch allows students to enroll more easily in classes they want and need, putting them on a path toward timely graduation.

Under Hornet Launch, students no longer build their schedules based primarily on course availability. Instead, they are assigned courses that allow them to move forward more efficiently in their chosen areas of study.

Sac State’s enrollment challenges in recent years mirror those of colleges and universities across the country.

Nationally, undergraduate enrollment at colleges and universities experienced steep drops in 2020 and 2021. However, a report released earlier this year by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests that enrollment is stabilizing. Headcounts contracted by less than 1% last year, the report shows.

The CSU system, which has seen significant enrollment declines since 2020, this fall launched a “dual admissions” program called Transfer Success Pathway. The initiative is meant to boost enrollment by reserving spots at CSU campuses for community college students while granting them access to services such as counseling and libraries.

The CSU shared comprehensive graduation numbers and statistics for each of the system’s 23 campuses at its Nov. 7 board meeting.

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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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