CSUN graduation rates rising but still low

Jessica Estrada

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Although initiatives enacted by the university have increased graduation rates, CSUN’s rates are still low compared to other public universities.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported the national graduation rate for first time full-time students was 55.7 percent for the six-year period ending in 2009.

CSUN’s graduation rate for the same six-year-period was 44 percent.

In comparison, NCES reported that the graduation rates of nearby universities for the same six-year-period were higher with the exception of California State University, Los Angeles, which had a 34 percent graduation rate.

California State University, Fullerton had a 52 percent graduate rate. California Polytechnic University, Pomona, had a 53 percent graduation rate and California State University, Long Beach, had a 54 percent graduation rate.

San Diego State University had a 66 percent graduation rate and California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo topped the group with a 72 percent graduate rate.

According to the “Undergraduate Persistence at Cal State Northridge During the Last Decade” report written by Bettina Huber, director of the Office of Institutional Research, “the number of baccalaureate degree recipients grew substantially during the last decade.”

“First time freshmen graduating from CSUN during the 2000s have considerably improved their persistence to degree,” the report states.

According to the report, graduate rates have increased from 32 percent in 2003 to 40 percent in 2008 and now remain at 43 percent.

This means the number of first time freshman graduates nearly doubled from 873 graduates in 1999 to 2,010 graduates in 2009.

The number of upper division transfer student graduates has also grown during the last decade from 2,422 in 1999 to 3,661 graduates in 2009.

Graduation initiatives are contributing factors to this increase in graduate rates and will continue to help raise them, said Cynthia Rawitch, associate vice president of the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

“The focus of these initiatives are getting ‘super seniors’ to graduate and offering a high level of support to keep students in school to improve graduation rates,” Rawitch said.

CSUN’s super seniors, students with more than 120 units, are encouraged to focus on their major and courses they need in order to graduate, Rawitch said.

“We want them to finish their first degree and launch their lives because as long as they continue at CSUN they will take the place of an incoming freshman wanting to come in to the university,” she said.

As part of this initiative, students will be required to take the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam in the semester in which they have 75 units instead of 90 units, starting in Fall 2011.

A registration hold will be placed for the following semester if the student does not attempt to take the exam.

“The reason is because many students wait until their last semester as seniors to take the exam and if they don’t pass they are not able to graduate,” Rawitch added.

Students with more than 130 units are required to file for graduation before enrolling in the following semester.

The university is also administratively graduating students who have accumulated over 140 units and have completed all the degree requirements for their major, Rawitch said.

“There are always a few students a year that have earned a degree and they don’t want to graduate, so we graduate them,” Rawitch said.

In the past few semesters about 25 students were administratively graduated as a result of this policy.

The university is also putting more time and effort to help students succeed in their academic careers before they enter the university, Rawitch added.

“We help them to get the classes they need and help them succeed in their classes by offering developmental courses, summer programs and tutoring,” she  said. “We also offer more University 100 courses which teach students how to succeed in the university.”

She added that one-fourth of all freshman do not continue on to their sophomore year and that the goal of these programs is to decrease the number of students who are dropping out.

It is also mandatory for students to take a class of supplemental instruction for courses that are high in Ds, Fs and Us. These courses have a student leader who goes over the material and offers extra support to help students improve, Rawitch continued.

Another initiative is the Freshman Stretch Writing, which began as a pilot project in Fall 2010.

It proved successful and will be implemented permanently Fall 2011.

Freshman Stretch Writing combines English developmental courses with freshman composition to help students complete the requirements in two semesters rather than three.

Developmental courses were not counted towards graduation, but through Freshman Stretch Writing those six units of course work will be counted, Rawitch said.

She said the class will consist of the same students and the same professor throughout the year.

“This program eliminates six units of coursework that students had to take and it helps students stay in school and succeed,” she added.