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While Cal State Graduation Rates Remain Flat, Socioeconomic Gaps Widen



California State University reports stagnant four-year graduation rates at 35%, two years ahead of its ambitious 2025 goal of 40%. (GV Wire)
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California State University’s four-year graduation rates remain flat for the 23-campus system just two years before the end of a 10-year deadline to dramatically improve them.

By Ashley A. Smith


The system announced Monday during its Graduation Initiative 2025 symposium in San Diego that rates remain unchanged from last year for first-time students. Preliminary data shows the four-year graduation rate remains unchanged from last year at 35%. The system’s 2025 goal is 40%. The six-year graduation rate for first-time students also remains the same as last year at 62%. The 2025 goal is 70%.

Graduation rates for transfers also remain flat this year, although the two-year transfer rate increased by 1 percentage point from last year to 41%. The 2025 two-year transfer goal is 45%. However, four-year transfer rates slightly decreased from 80% last year to 79% this year. The 2025 four-year transfer goal is 85%.

Despite the stall, Cal State has doubled its four-year graduation rates from 19%, when the 2025 graduation initiative was created in 2015. And since 2016, the CSU has contributed to an additional 150,000 bachelor’s degrees earned.

“We have no shortages of challenges ahead,” CSU Chancellor Mildred Garcia said during the symposium. “Persistent opportunity gaps continue to shortchange our students and our state. There is a greater need now, more than ever, to expand access and affordability, to proactively recruit and serve students of all ages and stages. Not only to elevate lives but to power California’s economic and social vitality.”

However, graduation equity gaps persist throughout the system. The gap between Black, Latino and Native American students and their peers increased by 1 point this year to a 13% difference. The graduation rate for Black students is at 47%. And the socioeconomic gap in graduation rates between low-income and higher-income students increased to 12%, said Jeff Gold, assistant vice chancellor for student success in the chancellor’s office.

“Graduation rates, although they are at all-time highs, have stagnated,” Gold said, adding that the system has been stuck at a 62% six-year graduation rate since 2020.

Jennifer Baszile, Cal State’s associate vice chancellor of student success and inclusive excellence, said the system is proud of its work to increase rates since 2015, but “we still know there is more work ahead.”

“Across the country, institutions have seen a growth in equity gaps,” Baszile said, adding that much of that is due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the pressure on students to work or take care of their families.

But the chancellor’s office is also working on strategies to understand and intervene where it can to improve the college experience for low-income and students of color, she said. For example, former interim Chancellor Jolene Koester assembled a strategic workgroup on Black student success to study trends and improve education for that group of students.

Cal State will release more data, including graduation rates by campus and race, over the next several weeks.

“While the CSU’s collective focus on our ambitious goals has resulted in graduation rates at or near all-time highs, there is still much to accomplish in the coming years,” Chancellor Garcia said. “We will boldly re-imagine our work to remove barriers and close equity gaps for our historically marginalized students — America’s new majority — as we continue to serve as the nation’s most powerful driver of socioeconomic mobility.”

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