May 10, 2012Vol. 42, Issue 6

Commencement — Our Success Story

president paul zingg

Our six-year graduation rate is now pushing into the mid-60 percent level. And our ultimate graduation rate is above 70 percent. The CSU overall six-year graduation rate is barely 50 percent.

In these first few weeks of May, we are seeing the happy confluence of the progress we have made in two important ways. First, we are watching about 3,400 students, the Class of 2012, gearing up for their respective Commencement ceremonies. These include candidates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees and those who will receive their teaching credentials. Second, we are keeping tabs on the 4,100 or so students who will comprise the Class of 2016, as they begin to queue up through their intent-to-register communications with us. And, at this point, the signs are very good for a strong yield on our offers of admission.

There are obvious stories in this activity occurring at opposite ends of the continuum of our students’ experience with us. Clearly, the more we see students graduate, the more we have room for new students at the entrance point of the spectrum. This is the surest way to maintain a steady-state enrollment picture, even as our level of State General Fund support continues to plummet. And, for those who focus on the quantifiable evidence of our success, like the state legislature, these numbers matter a lot.

There is no shortage of credit throughout the University for our gains in graduation rates and the case it represents to manage a steady-state enrollment plan. From faculty who willingly take an extra student or two into their already crowded classrooms to academic advisors who help students design and then stay focused on a successful degree plan; from recruiters who effectively communicate to prospective students our high expectations for academic performance to clear and honored transfer articulation agreements with our region’s community colleges; from a University-wide understanding that student success is our first priority to an undaunted determination to stay that course no matter what our budget situation is—these factors, and so much more, comprise the story behind the numbers.

There are a few stories within this big picture, though, that particularly reveal the spirit of our efforts, not just the statistics that fill a report to the Board of Trustees or the state legislature. Take, for example, the work with our partner high schools, primarily undertaken by the Chico Student Success Center directed by Gary McMahon and assisted by Bertha Alicia Curiel.

These partner schools are situated throughout the state, stretching from Tulelake in the north to the Coachella Valley in the southern desert. These partnerships flow from our fundamental need to recruit beyond the North State in order to meet our enrollment goals. But they reflect a strategic choice to establish relationships with schools that will bring diversity to our student body and hope to the communities which host these schools. And we are succeeding in this endeavor.

In fall 2003, 23 students from these schools enrolled in Chico State. For fall 2012, we have 148 students who have declared their intent to enroll. From Coachella alone, we are looking to enroll about a dozen new students, bringing to over 40 the number of students from that area now with us. In 2002, we only had a handful of applications.

The diversity within these numbers is extraordinary: 53 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African-American, and another 15 percent two or more blended or non-white ethnicities.

Moreover, they succeed with us. As we are seeing for all under-represented students at the University, their retention and graduation rates lag only slightly from the overall numbers. In fact, since Chico State began its own graduation initiative, the graduation rate gap between under-represented students and students not in this category has closed from 23 percent to 9 percent. Work to be done, to be sure, but a clear direction and real progress nonetheless.

There will be many opportunities between now and Commencement weekend, May 19-20, to celebrate the success of our students. But this is also a time to remember that their success is a University story. I know that our students will thank the faculty who have taught them and the staff who have served them. But, in this last column of the academic year, let me do so, too. Thank you, dear colleagues and friends, throughout our University, for what you accomplish every day for our students and the fulfillment of our vital mission to serve the North State and California. This is a record of achievement that attracts new students to us as surely as it has shaped the values and improved the outlook for the students who shortly will leave our company, yet forever be in our debt.

Paul J. Zingg

President