CSU Progress in Graduation Rates

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dear campus community,

Five years ago, a series of reports from the Public Policy Institute revealed our state would soon face a critical shortage: too few college graduates. If not addressed, the report suggested, by 2030 California's gap could exceed one million educated workers. The California State University, the greatest degree producer in the state and its greatest source of upward mobility, embraced the opportunity to produce more graduates. 

A CSU Advisory Committee composed of faculty, staff, students and administrators quickly identified two key challenges—first, socioeconomic, racial and ethnic gaps in degree attainment and, second, longer than typical time to degree. Four-year graduation rates for students entering the CSU directly from high school and two-year rates for community college transfers lagged woefully behind those in other states attending comparable institutions. And, if the CSU did not make progress at increasing the graduation rates for low-income students and for students from groups historically underrepresented in higher education, California would not have the educated workforce it needs. Living up to its core commitment to educational equity, the CSU embraced the challenge and set ambitious goals for the entire system and for each university, launching the program known as Graduation Initiative 2025.

Last Friday, in the largest virtual gathering in the history of the CSU, almost 4,000 people learned just how successful this project has been to date. Despite the disruption of a global pandemic, over 120,000 CSU students earned their baccalaureate degrees in 2020—an all-time high—and 20,000 more than when the CSU launched the graduation initiative. Today, graduation rates in the system are higher than they’ve ever been, including the goal that represented the heaviest lift for the CSU—the four-year rate for freshmen. In 2015, only 19% of students who entered as first-time freshmen graduated in four years. Just five years later, 31% do, and 44% of community college transfers now graduate in two years, up from 31% in 2013. These are remarkable numbers and represent significant financial gains for students and their families. While the data and our figures in particular demonstrate there is more work to do, we are moving quickly in the right direction.

Friday’s event also included acknowledgments of some of the CSU’s outstanding students and faculty. I encourage you to watch the video. Among the highlights: a performance by an SF State alumna, Cherokee White. A theater and cultural anthropology student, Cherokee’s piece powerfully expresses why Black Lives Matter and why they must matter at SF State and across the CSU. Her interview demonstrated the power of an SF State degree and her clear awareness of how the support of faculty and staff enabled her success. Additionally, faculty member Jae H. Paik was recognized with a 2020 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award, reserved for faculty who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership to advance student success. As always, I am so deeply proud to serve as your president.

While the success of Graduation Initiative 2025 can be neatly summarized by data, we are all keenly aware that every data point represents a student whose achievement is transformative—for themselves, for their families and their communities. And, despite the greatest disruption in higher education in recent history, the CSU and SF State are transforming lives. The persistence of our students and the hard work of faculty, staff and administrators are the foundations of the CSU. Let’s pause a moment to congratulate our students and ourselves. And then let’s get back to work helping students graduate and advocating for the funding the CSU needs and deserves to continue its efforts to transform lives and California.

With wishes for good health.


Lynn's Signature

Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.