College readiness and graduation rates among CSULB students have steadily improved in recent years, in spite of the dismal economic landscape that has proven to be so challenging. In 2004, 61 percent of CSULB freshmen were college ready in math, compared to 73 percent in 2010. Likewise, college readiness in English was 50 percent, compared to 55 percent in 2010. Graduation rates have improved also, from 48 percent for full time, first-time freshmen who began in 2000 to 54 percent for freshmen who began in 2004. Moreover, CSULB managed these successes without altering its enrollment management strategies to provide access to a diverse body of students.
These successes and others have been recognized nationally. CSULB is considered one of the best values in public colleges by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. The Education Trust named CSULB as one of five accessible and affordable institutions with high graduation rates. CSULB is considered one of the safest campuses in the nation by Security Magazine, and we are consistently cited by ranking publications, such as the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report, as one of the best public universities for value without compromising academic integrity.
“When you take the university's national rankings into account, it is easy to say that there are only a few places in the nation where students from all socioeconomic and ethnic classes actually stand a better chance to graduate than right here at CSULB.”
-CSULB President F. King Alexander
What explains the management of our success? In the Southern Regional Education Board article, “Promoting a Culture of Student Success: How Colleges and Universities are Improving Degree Completion,” authors cited research pertaining to shared characteristics among successful colleges and universities. Some of these characteristics include the presence of campus leaders who establish a “graduation-oriented” environment, support targeted programs for students academically at risk, focus on planning and “intrusive advising,” where students are required to work individually with advisors, and encourage collaborative efforts across campus constituencies.
Furthermore, CSULB was one of 15 institutions highlighted by SREB for successfully increasing graduation rates. Each of these 15 institutions had achieved a graduation rate of at least 45 percent, had median SAT scores of 1050 or lower, and had at least a fourth of the student body receiving Pell Grants, indicating each school’s commitment to the success of students at risk. CSULB and the other fourteen were recognized as having a campus culture that supported student success with an “intense focus on individual students.” The complete report may be downloaded from the SREB website (www.sreb.org).
CSULB has experienced consistent growth in college readiness rates in English and math among incoming freshmen in the last seven years. The work of the Early Assessment Program may be contributing to this success. The EAP includes an early assessment of the college readiness of high school juniors, as well as collaboration between CSULB and high school faculty in English and math. At CSULB, the EAP works with 26 feeder high schools and two local community colleges, and ensures that 98 percent of students in the Long Beach Unified School District participate.
Data show that freshmen who are not considered college-ready in English and/or math are more at risk of dropping out and never graduating than students who meet minimum levels of proficiency measured by standardized admissions and placement tests. To mitigate the negative impact of lack of preparedness, CSULB established its Beach Learning Community program in 2007. The BLC offers students who are required to take pre-college level courses in English and math a learning community experience where cohorts of students take classes together, form study groups and work with teams of instructors, advisors and tutors. Early findings suggest that the BLC experience contributes positively to first-year persistence.
The Highly Valued Degree Initiative, launched in spring 2010 by President F. King Alexander, includes five task forces devoted to understanding and improving graduation rates among traditionally underrepresented students. CSULB’s University Center for Undergraduate Advising revamped its “Destination Graduation” program, making it a collaborative endeavor between advisors in the center and Enrollment Services. The program targets students in their fifth and sixth years to ensure they are on track for graduation. The Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement program introduced a series of intensive writing courses that students must take if they are unable to achieve a passing score on CSULB’s Writing Proficiency Exam. Because successful completion of the GWAR is required for graduation, many students in the past were unable to graduate because they could not pass the WPE. Since 2005, GWAR course opportunities have enabled more than 2,500 students to meet the GWAR requirement and graduate from CSULB.
Apart from the aforementioned efforts to improve college readiness and graduation rates, many other practices and programs may be contributing to our success as well. For example, the Long Beach College Promise, begun in 2006, is a collaborative partnership including CSULB, Long Beach City College and the Long Beach Unified School District, and provides pathways for Long Beach high school and community college students to attend CSULB and succeed in achieving a college degree.
All new freshmen and transfer students are required to participate in mandatory advising through the Student Orientation and Retention program. The Parent Orientation Program enables parents to meet campus leaders and advisors. Campus police ensure our safety every day. The campus community benefits from transportation enhancements such as the UPass and shuttle system. The Residential Learning College holds great promise as a living/learning environment for many students and faculty at CSULB. The President’s Scholars Program brings valedictorians and National Merit Scholars to our campus and supports their success by providing fully paid tuition, residence halls expenses and other benefits. These are just a few examples of the opportunities that exist on our campus to enhance student success.
There are many programs and practices at CSULB that enhance degree attainment among our student populations. The Student Recreation and Wellness Center has been open for one year, and is already having a tremendous impact on campus life at the university. Facilities Management offers a complete sustainability program devoted to the preservation of natural resources for future generations. The program known as Early Start will begin in spring 2012, and will mandate that college freshmen begin required preparatory work in English and math before they enroll in the CSU, with the goal of diminishing barriers to graduation for some of the university's most at-risk students.
To improve our understanding of student success, however, CSULB must conduct longitudinal research from the time students enter the university until they depart and begin their careers. We have collected an extensive amount of data about our students over the years, as published on the CSULB Student Assessment website. However, a systematic method of using results and making connections among findings will greatly improve our knowledge of student success. We also need to understand student perspectives and motivations. How do student behaviors, attitudes, practices and goals contribute to learning and development? The Offices of Institutional Research and Assessment and Testing, Evaluation and Assessment are currently planning to conduct a major study entitled “Barriers to Graduation.” The study will be conducted during the 2011-2012 academic year, will be broad in scope and will seek to connect student cognitive and affective experiences to eventual outcomes. We welcome your recommendations as we proceed with this important research.
CSULB Institutional Research & Assessment:
CSULB Public Affairs & Publications
CSULB Student Assessment
Facilities Management Sustainability Program
Southern Regional Education Board