First-year students grab most of CSUN’s graduation rate focus

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Low graduation rates continue to pose a problem for CSUN, especially with first-year freshmen students who lack a connection to the university, school officials said.

One of the university’s goals is to get first-year freshmen students to become better adjusted to university lifestyle and connect to the campus in a more meaningful way, which will result in increased campus graduation rates, according to Harry Hellenbrand, CSUN provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

“The main focus is on first- and second-year students,” Hellenbrand said. Unlike many transfer students who come to CSUN with more maturity, freshmen students usually are not as determined yet, he said.

The campus’ graduation rate, however, is improving, Hellenbrand said.

The J-Car Rating System keeps track of students who took six years to graduate from CSUN. Comparing students who began in 1993 and completed school in 1998 with those who began in 1998 and completed school in 2004 shows an overall increase in the graduation rate across the board, Hellenbrand said.

There was a 6 percent improvement in the graduation rate in first-year freshmen students, and a 17 percent improvement in transfer students, he said.

In total, 36 percent of students who entered CSUN in 1998 graduated within six years, according to CSU data.

Currently, there is a 23 percent drop rate among first- and second-year students attending CSUN, meaning around 75 percent of students come back for a second year.

At CSU Fresno, 84 percent first-year students came back for a second year, and at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the figure rose to 90 percent.

The Educational Opportunity Program has three programs in place that help freshmen and transfer students complete their required courses and graduate, said Shawn Kang, an adviser at EOP: The Commuter Bridge program, which takes place in the summer, the Residential Bridge program, and the Fresh Start program, which consists of weekend dorm visits where first-time freshmen students spend a weekend in the dorms and try to form relationships with other students.

In addition to these services, in Fall 2004 new EOP workshops were planned for the first time to help students with budgeting, time management, and class work organization. The workshops have yet to become popular, Kang said.

“The workshops are not integrated into the campus climate” simply because they’re still so new, Kang said.

Incoming freshmen students in EOP are required to seek advisement every two weeks during their first year, Kang said. The advising sessions are focused on helping students better organize classroom work and get questions answered. Students are not reprimanded if they do not attend their advisement session, he said.

One factor that affects how much determination freshmen have to succeed at CSUN has to do with the high number of commuter students attending CSUN, compared with UCLA and USC, both of which have a sizeable on or near campus populations, Hellenbrand said.

Students that live on or near campus, in residence halls for example, have a better chance to connect with the university lifestyle, he said.

There are plans in early stages to build more dorms around the CSUN campus, according to Terry Piper, vice president for Student Affairs. The dorms would be geared toward freshmen students to help them adjust and connect to CSUN.

There would be between approximately 2,000 and 2,500 new rooms as part of the project, doubling the current amount already constructed near North Campus in the University Park Apartments’ 15 residence halls. The new dorms are tentatively scheduled to be completed in Fall 2008, Piper said. This type of community-based housing is for students to be become better involved with the university, he said.

There are already apartments around the campus to work with current students who want to be independent, Piper said.

To that effect, future plans for more dorms for second-year and beyond and transfer students will be looked at in the future, Piper said.

Another way to improve graduation rates is to increase the size of so-called “bottleneck classes” that are required for graduation and often times difficult to get into, Hellenbrand said. By increasing the classroom size for some courses, students will have a better chance of getting into them and completing them.

There are a limited amount of large classrooms and lecture halls, however, such as the Johnson Auditorium in Jacaranda Hall, available for use on campus, he said.

Richard Barkinskiy can be reached city@sundial.csun.edu.