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Cal State Seeing Faster Graduation Pace

November 14, 2002|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Despite campuses jammed by rising enrollments, students are graduating at faster rates in the California State University system, a report released Wednesday shows.

Cal State officials attributed the improvement largely to increased spending on education amid the state's economic recovery in the late 1990s, a change that they say brought undergraduate students a greater choice of classes and more counseling help.

According to the report, 42% of freshmen who began in the fall of 1995 earned bachelor's degrees within six years. That was up from 39% for the group of freshmen who entered Cal State universities in fall 1993.

For students who transferred to Cal State schools from community colleges, the latest figures show the percentage who earned bachelor's degrees within three years was 51%, up from 48% among transfers who began studies at Cal State campuses three years earlier, in fall 1995.

The higher graduation rates raised hopes among officials in the 23-campus system that further gains will be produced by stepped-up efforts over the last few years to relieve crowding by cutting the time it takes for students to earn bachelor's degrees.

"I hope that when we talk three or four years from now, we'll see an even greater increase in students graduating in six years, or maybe even five years," said David S. Spence, the Cal State system's executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer.

He delivered the report at the Cal State board of trustees meeting in Long Beach.

Travis J. Reindl, director of state policy analysis for the American Assn. of State Colleges and Universities, cited federal statistics showing that the six-year graduation rate nationally at universities comparable to Cal State campuses was 38.1% for students who enroll as freshmen. The graduation rate for such students at all public universities nationally is 41.4%.

"A lot of state university systems have put a lot of emphasis on programs for at-risk students, and CSU has been particularly active," Reindl said.

Spence said graduation rates at many Cal State campuses are held down by the high percentage of commuter students who study part time and who have to balance their education with long hours at work off campus.

Still, even among full-time students, the latest figures show that only 30% graduated in the traditional four-year time period.

"That still raises questions," Spence said.

The Cal State system's accountability report, a follow-up to a similar performance assessment issued in September 2000, partly focused on the system's efforts to cope with surging enrollment.

For instance, it found that the percentage of instruction provided at nontraditional times, through online education or at off-campus centers rose to 40% in the 2000-01 school year. That was up from 38% in 1998-99. Included in the nontraditional category of instruction were classes taught during summer sessions, evenings and weekends. The figure is expected to rise in coming years as a result of a recent expansion in summer school offerings.

Enrollment throughout the system, now at a record 407,000, is expected to grow by the equivalent of 11,000 to 12,000 full-time students a year throughout the coming decade.

In January, the Cal State Board of Trustees is expected to approve a resolution for some of the system's campuses to begin studying expansion plans to accommodate rising enrollment.

The report also showed the beginnings of the admissions squeeze due to the boom in young people reaching college age in California.

In all, 10,819 students in the 2000-01 school year who met the basic standards for admission -- meaning that they finished in the top third of their graduating class and completed the necessary college preparatory courses -- were turned away from their first-choice campuses for lack of room.

Most of the rejections came from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and San Diego State. Of those rejected students, 7,695 were admitted to other Cal State campuses.

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