Cal Poly Pomona is making significant strides in bolstering graduation rates and closing achievement gaps. The university —which graduated its largest class in history in 2018 at more than 6,300 — is one of two CSU campuses to make progress on all six goals outlined in the California State University Graduation Initiative 2025 (GI 2025), a systemwide effort launched three years ago to help students to graduate in a timeframe more aligned with their personal goals and needs.
Here’s Cal Poly Pomona’s progress from 2015 to 2018:
- Freshman four-year graduation rate increased to 29.6 percent in 2018 from 17.8 percent in 2015.
- Freshman six-year rate increased to 71 percent, up from 62.9 percent.
- Two-year transfer graduation rate was 31.8 percent, an increase from 16.8 percent.
- Four-year transfer graduation rate was 80 percent, compared to 75.1 percent in 2015.
Terri Gomez, associate vice president for student success, said previous efforts around reducing equity gaps were limited in focus to underrepresented minority students. This initiative includes a focus on eliminating gaps for both underrepresented minority and Pell Grant-eligible students.
“GI 2025 is particularly bold,” Gomez said. “It will have a profound impact on California.”
Equity gaps between underrepresented minority students and their white peers shrunk to 9.2 percent, down from 13.7 percent in the previous year. The gap between students receiving Pell grants and those not receiving the funding was 2.3 percent in 2018, down from 5.3 percent in 2017.
Gomez credits President Soraya M. Coley, along with Provost Sylvia Alva and Vice President for Student Affairs Lea Jarnagin, with pushing to make sure every student thrives.
“She was determined to knock down silos,” Gomez said of Coley. “She knew to make progress on goals, we needed to work together. We’ve taken a holistic approach. We want to provide roadmaps for students that provide a clear path to a degree.”
Cal Poly Pomona’s initiatives focused on four key areas to reach the GI 2025 goals — course scheduling, hiring additional advisers, adding more tenure-track faculty and providing holistic support for students through a partnership between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.
Cal Poly Pomona has a system to track bottleneck courses so that additional funding can go toward adding course sections. Last academic year, 319 sections of the most impacted courses were added, providing 11,415 additional seats filled by students.
In addition, the university invested $1.5 million in summer completion grants at CPP to help students with eight units or fewer earn their diplomas.
The grants — which included tuition, fees, books, parking, a meal plan and in some cases, housing — were awarded to 327 students. Participating students had a 93 percent graduation rate. The immediate savings for students was $13,000, Gomez said.
Katelyn Johnson (’18, graphic design) had just four units left to earn her degree when she heard about the summer completion grant. The courses she needed — a portfolio class and a design seminar — aren’t typically offered in the summer, which meant she would have had to wait until fall to take them, she said. Because of the grant, one of her professors helped make those courses available last summer, Johnson said.
“It really did help a lot,” she said of the grant. “It’s hard for students because they expect to be out in four years, but end up staying five or six. If Cal Poly Pomona is trying to give us the resources to get out sooner, it’s like this boost of morale.”
The most significant investment the university has made to meet goals and bridge equity gaps is in advising, Gomez said.
Eight new retention and graduation specialists have been hired, one for each college. The advisors will specifically work with students who are close to graduation, as well as those facing disqualification and in need of additional support to get them back on track. Also added was a coordinator for E-advising tools, as the university plans to implement the Early Alerts and Predictive Analytics system in 2019 that will use data to streamline the process of tracking students who are struggling academically or grappling with other issues that could provide a barrier to success.
Cecilia Santiago Gonzalez, director of strategic initiatives for student success and coordinator of the summer completion grant program, said the university also has created campaigns to promote resources and programs designed to help students be successful and graduate as quickly as possible. The Take 30 campaign is one of the efforts, encouraging students to take 30 units a year.
With an understanding that students have different experiences and responsibilities, the idea is that there are lots of ways students can take 30 units beyond 15 each semester, including summer classes, Santiago Gonzalez said.
“It really does allow students to have a plan,” she said. “If you don’t take 30, you have to be realistic, too, about when you graduate.”
Another important resource is the Bronco Advising Center, which was redesigned a couple of years ago to provide a more centralized place where students can get a variety of questions answered. The center sees 300 to 400 students a week and as many as 1,200 at its busiest, Santiago Gonzalez said.
The Office of Student Success also taps communications tools such as the Bronco Bytes newsletter, social media and street teams and is piloting a texting program to alert students about when fees are due.
The planned addition of data tools to track student progress also will assist the Bronco Advising Center in helping students in need, she said.
“We will be able to see how academic performance will affect financial aid and other aspects,” she said. “It gives us a birds-eye view. It allows us to have an integrative model for the way we reach students.”
The formation of college-based student success teams also is a key component. The teams include the strategic leadership, as well as academic and faculty advisors at each of the colleges; representatives from Academic Affairs to provide training, resources, metric and strategic direction; and Student Affairs to assist with student development, co-curricular engagement and holistic support and resources.
The holistic approach to supporting students is key to improving graduating rates, according to campus leadership.
Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, associate vice president for Campus Health & Student Wellbeing, said the push includes the creation of an Integrated Care Network that consists of care services coordinators from different areas including: the Broncos Care basic needs program, autism specialty services, counseling and psychological services, and housing. A representative from ASI also will be added in relation to the physical food pantry that is coming soon to the Bronco Student Center.
The members of the team coordinate to make sure that students don’t get overlooked and get referrals for the types of services they need, Gutierrez-Lopez said.
“It’s a very holistic and wrap around approach,” she said. “We are really intentional about who we put on this Integrated Care Network. It’s about the health and wellbeing of our students and making sure we aren’t having any students fall through the cracks.”