Graduation Initiative


Targets:  Data from the graduating class of 2015 (PDF) indicate that Chico achieved the targets set by the Chancellor’s Office.  Our overall 6-year graduation rate target was 60%, actual was 64%. The gap between URMs and non-URMs was reduced from 21% to 10%, meeting the target of reducing the gap by half.

In the last 6 years, Chico State has gone from being a majority White institution (~64% White in 2009) to a majority minority university (~46% White) driven largely by an increase in the Hispanic population from 13% to 30%. For determining our graduation rates, the more pertinent numbers are a decrease in White first-time, full-time freshmen (FTF) from 65% in 2009 to 39% in 2015, while Hispanic FTF increased from 21% in 2009 to 44% in 2015, and first generation FTF increased from 16% in 2009 to 33% this year.  Because Hispanics and first generation students have historically persisted and graduated at lower rates than White students, as the numbers of Hispanic and/or first gen students grows, it will be increasingly challenging to maintain or increase our graduation rates.

Campus Recommendations:  In its initial years the Graduation Initiative Team focused on better understanding aspects of the student experience at Chico State that affected graduation rates.  Early efforts resulted in a detailed “delivery chain (PDF)” model that analyzed the student experience from outreach and recruitment, through the academic programs, to graduation and beyond. Data analysis (PDF) revealed that the single largest factor affecting graduation rates was lack of retention from first-to-second year.  At that time, more than 20% of all FTF, and 25% of URM students, were being lost in the first-to-second year transition, suggesting that the biggest improvements in grad rates would come from reducing first year losses. This focus led to the development of U-courses, and expanded Summer Bridge program and REACH (discussed below) as well as other elements of the First Year Experience Program.  The Graduation Initiative Team also fostered the development of:

  • more detailed and engaging Student Success Maps, that provided information to students on how to successfully navigate undergraduate majors. 
  • with a student public relations organization, the Tehama Group, we developed a web-based resource, the Graduation Planning Source or GPS, aimed at providing students with the information needed to progress toward their degrees.
  • markers and milestones of progress toward degree (units attempted and completed, GPA, declaration of major) associated with timely graduation and began tracking those by incoming cohort.

The Graduation Initiative team spent an extended period of time in 2012-14 discussing what we had learned about graduation rates at our own and other campuses, and, consequently, what actions the campus should pursue to enhance student success. After examining the national literature, consulting local and statewide subject matter experts, and examining our own and others best practices, the Graduation Initiative Team recommended that the campus strengthen student advising.  We recommended a two-pronged approach to achieve this goal: (1) focus advising on underserved students—first gen, low income, minority students who are not served by existing support programs, and (2) strengthen faculty advising by hiring a dedicated academic advisor to work with faculty advisors, providing them with tools, concepts and information to enhance their effectiveness. While it took some time to act on this recommendation, in 2015, the campus committed to hiring two additional advisors to address these concerns.

Review of HIPs.  At the CSU system level there was increased recognition of the synergy between enhancing graduation rates and student academic engagement. Student engagement is linked to participation in what has come to be termed, “High Impact Practices” or HIPs (Kuh 2008, Kuh and O’Donnell 2013). Members of the Graduation Initiative Team participated in a series of meetings hosted by the Chancellor’s Office aimed at systematizing our understanding of HIPs, coming up with common definitions and inventories of practices (creating “taxonomies” of HIPs), assessing the (variable) impact of HIPs and tracking student participation in these practices in order to better understand their effects on student success. Key HIPs identified on our campus were Student-Faculty Research, learning communities such as the U-courses, public sphere pedagogy such as the Town Hall and Great Debate, and student competitions. This information has been fed back into the system-wide thinking on HIPs, as Chico has shared our experiences and assessment data on HIPs with others across the state.

Student Success Funding.  The efforts to more systematically understand the effects of HIPs on student success coincided with allocation of student success funding from the Chancellor’s Office in 2013-14.  These funds were allocated on a competitive proposal basis.  Our campuses submitted proposals that led to the creation of the REACH program, U-Courses and an expanded Summer Bridge, as well as the purchase and implementation of E-advising technologies.  As the programmatic interventions were implemented, the lead faculty and staff participated actively in concerted assessment efforts, mandated and managed at the CSU system level, to better understand the efficacy of these interventions. Expanded Summer Bridge, REACH and U-Course all showed highly promising effects on student retention and progress toward degree.  Academic E-advising software facilitates appointment scheduling, real-time advising notes, student tracking, and an intrusive early-alert communication system. 

A second round of student Success funding from the CO in AY 15-16 was allocated as part of a base budget increase.  Chico State received an allocation of $772,000 to support student success initiatives. Campuses were asked to respond with projected uses of these funds. It was these funds that supported the hiring of two academic advisors (detailed above) as well as five “student success” faculty hires and a commitment to support and assess a more systematic approach to HIPs on our campus.  Faculty hires are in progress, academic advisors have been hired, and work on systematizing HIPs remains at the conceptual stage.

An additional effort, still underway, involves a research project to better understand the risk factors associated with students’ failure to persist from second-to-third year.  This research project involves the analysis of data on student persistence/dropout to create a predictive model that identifies risk factors.  This model will be used to identify “at risk” students, who will receive intrusive advising in an effort to retain them, and keep them on track to their degrees.