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SDSU No. 1 in U.S. for Improved Grad Rates

The university tops The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Fast Gainers” list.
SDSU’s six-year graduation rates improved from 44 percent in 2003 to 61 percent in 2008.
SDSU’s six-year graduation rates improved from 44 percent in 2003 to 61 percent in 2008.

San Diego State University is among the fastest gainers in graduation rates according to a new analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The report shows SDSU atop the list of all public research universities in the nation for increased graduation rates with an increase of 17 percentage points over six years. 

SDSU’s six-year graduation rates (the national reporting standard) improved from 44 percent in 2003 to 61 percent in 2008. 

Longer-term look shows even more impressive gains

A longer look at SDSU’s graduation rates reveals an even more impressive 28 percentage point increase:  from 38 percent in 2002 to 66 percent in 2010, well exceeding the national average of 55 percent. This occurred while approximately one-third of all four-year universities saw their graduation rates decrease, according to the Chronicle.

Graduation Rates Chart

Even more impressive is the percentage increase in graduation rates by SDSU’s ethnically diverse students, up from 33 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2010 — exceeding the rate of increase by students as a whole. 

“This accomplishment speaks volumes about SDSU’s outstanding students,” said SDSU President Stephen Weber.  ”Every aspect of our university is in some way focused on this outcome — making sure our students succeed and earn their degrees.”

Policy changes only part of effort

A watershed moment was a campus-wide decision shortly after President Weber’s arrival in 1996 to make significant changes to its admissions process. Beginning in 1999, the university applied more selective criteria — applicants meeting California State University minimum qualifications were no longer assured a spot in SDSU’s freshman class.  

But policy changes like enrollment management was only a part of the effort. SDSU also re-engineered its network of student support, including:

  • Making freshmen orientation mandatory
  • Introducing a “bounce-back” program for struggling students
  • Offering more counseling
  • Expanding its Honors Program
  • Creating international opportunities
  • Increasing financial aid 

Campus culture shift

“There isn’t just one program that affected this change, but an entire culture shift university-wide that makes student achievement an imperative,” said Geoff Chase, dean of SDSU’s Division of Undergraduate Studies who heads the university’s committee to improve graduation rates. 

And it’s not just students or the university who benefit from increased graduation rates. All citizens of California have a vested interest in student success. SDSU's 28-percentage-point increase means an additional 1,018 students graduated this year than would have at the previous rate.

“These graduates go on to produce an average $1.5 million additional income during their lifetimes, contributing to the local and state economy,” Weber said.

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