Cal Poly Pomona’s graduation rates rose across all categories for students starting as freshmen and as transfer students. The result was more than 7,400 students earning their degrees as members of the Class of 2021, the largest graduating class in university history.
For full-time students who entered the university as freshmen, the four-year graduation rate increased to 29 percent, and the six-year graduation rate climbed to 70 percent. For transfer students, the two-year graduation rate rose to 33 percent and four-year graduation rate climbed to 79.3 percent.
The university had mixed results on two other important measures of success. The equity gap between Pell Grant recipients and their peers in six-year graduation rates fell to 2.9 percent. However, the equity gap between underrepresented minority (URM) students who started as first-year students and their peers in six-year graduation rates increased to 13.8 percent.
“Cal Poly Pomona’s success in improving graduation rates across the board during a uniquely challenging time is truly remarkable and a testament to our collective commitment to student success,” said President Soraya M. Coley. “But we still have much work to do. Reducing the equity gaps continues to be a central priority for our campus, and for me personally. We will continue to invest in mentoring and a host of innovative projects and programs to ensure that all of our students achieve their academic goals.”
The graduation numbers were reported today by the California State University in an update on its Graduation Initiative 2025 (GI2025). Launched in 2016, GI2025 established ambitious goals to increase graduation rates and eliminate equity gaps on every campus in the system.
Since GI 2025 began, Cal Poly Pomona has hired eight academic advisors, increased academic supports, and added new mentoring programs, academic planning tools, an early alert system to identify students who may need help, tutors in some courses, wellness coaching and more ways to check-in with students to see how they are doing. Twelve additional academic advisors will be added this year.
Among the warning signs a student may not be making timely progress to degree, says Terri Gomez, associate provost for student success, is three or more non-passing grades.
“That’s a huge barrier to graduation. We need to intervene at that first one. It makes sense, but we often don’t realize how that really starts to snowball. In that first year, we’re already seeing that gap opening up between URM and non-URM students. URM students are not hitting those 30 academic unit milestones at the end of that first year while non-URM students are. That’s where the new Summer Boost program can really help.”
Started in 2020, Summer Boost originally offered students the opportunity to take their General Education (GE) math or English course by the end of their freshman year with the university covering the cost of tuition (up to six units and fees) and books. The following year, funding for the program more than doubled, and the more than 700 participating students were able to take GE courses in six different areas. The group achieved an 87 percent pass rate for their courses.
The Early Start Bronco Scholars Program is aimed at incoming first-year students who need support in math. During the six-week program, students complete the first half of a math course towards their GE B4 math requirement; receive one-to-one advising, peer and professional support; learn about campus resources; make new friends and get a head start on campus life. When the program meets in-person, students receive grants that, regardless of parent income, cover the cost of living in a residence hall for an early start, food and books. The 120 students in the virtual 2021 program had a pass rate of 91 percent for the math course compared to a 54 percent pass rate before the program began.
The Summer Completion Grant Program targets students just a few credits shy of graduation. It offers those eight units or less away from graduation, the opportunity to take that last needed class or two. Grants cover each student’s tuition, books and parking. Last summer, 367 students were able to take those critical classes, with 91 percent completing requirements to graduate and begin their careers. Since the program began in 2019, more than 900 students have taken advantage of the opportunity it provides.
“For sure we need to expand our summer opportunities across the board,” said Gomez when discussing next steps. “We’ve already proven that it works. For students who stumble in their first or second year, summer allows them to retake the course and get back on track for their degree. We have seen proven success in completion of Math and English for freshman, as well as sophomores and juniors needing to complete GEs. Our goal is to scale summer intervention programs with embedded support.”
Programs specifically aimed at closing the equity gap between underrepresented students and their peers include the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), Maximizing Engineering Potential and Science Educational Enhancement Services (SEES).
“Closing equity gaps is our number one priority and requires that we intervene in real time,” said Gomez. “The significant investment in new advisors, predictive analytics and an early alert system will allow us to do just that.”