Skip To Content

University Update

University Update

University Update header

October 19, 2016

To:  All SDSU faculty and staff
From:  President Elliot Hirshman
Provost and Senior Vice President Chukuka S. Enwemeka
Vice Presidents Mary Ruth Carleton, Tom McCarron and Eric Rivera
Vice President and Graduate Dean Stephen Welter

As we approach the midpoint of the fall semester, we have exciting developments to report and major achievements to celebrate. Many of these accomplishments are the fruit of combined and concentrated efforts from our community that span several years or even decades. 

Graduation Rates

The six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen who graduated this spring was 74.1 percent – an increase of 5.6 percentage points over last year. Rates have risen 18 percentage points since the early 2000s. Achievement gaps continue to narrow as students of color graduated at an overall rate of 71.1 percent, but there is still work to do to eliminate remaining gaps among racial and ethnic groups. Transfer students graduated at a rate of 85.2 percent – up nearly 16 percentage points since 2001. We are grateful to our community for their work on graduation initiatives and pledge to build on this foundation. 


This fall, 5,011 first-time freshmen – average GPA 3.68 and average SAT composite 1117 – began their Aztec experience. Three hundred are members of our Susan and Stephen Weber Honors College – our largest class so far – and our new cohort of 578 Compact Scholars is also one of the largest ever. Fifty-two percent of our freshman class are students of color. We also welcomed 3,543 new transfer students and 2,191 new post-baccalaureate and graduate students.


The 2016-17 state appropriation has been finalized by the Chancellor’s Office. Our university budget is stable and balanced, and we were able to fund our 2016-17 compensation increases from a combination of state appropriation and university sources. The CSU has presented a preliminary support budget request for 2017-18 and is awaiting the governor’s funding proposal in January. We anticipate there will be a significant gap between the CSU’s budget request and the governor’s funding proposal. We are proceeding cautiously this year given this potential gap.

Strategic Plan 

We are in the fourth year of implementing our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” which extends the work of our SDSU predecessors. We have several updates on its main goals.

Student Success:

•  The percentage of freshmen continuing on to their sophomore year has risen to 89.7 percent – a rate nearly equal across racial and ethnic groups.

•  International experiences fuel student success, and 2,660 SDSU students studied abroad last year – an increase of 10 percent from the previous year and a 65 percent increase since 2011-12. The number of EOP students studying abroad increased to 397.

•  Mentors make a difference, and our Aztec Mentor Program is on track to pair 1,620 students with alumni mentors – a 58 percent increase. Our new Provost Undergraduate Mentoring Program begins this year, and our Sophomore Surge peer mentoring program enters its second year. 

•  The number of students in our commuter student learning communities has increased 25 percent to 912. 

•  We welcomed 53 new tenure-track faculty members this fall; they are part of our five-year effort to add 300 new tenure-track and tenured faculty. We also launched the Building on Inclusive Excellence program to recruit and retain a diverse faculty. 

•  In new efforts to support our community, the Brave Project is providing programming to prevent sexual violence and improve responses and support for survivors. Our Pride Center and LGBT studies received a $210,000 gift for leadership programs and scholarships. We will also construct three new gender-neutral bathrooms at Calpulli Center, Peterson Gym and Love Library, bringing our campus total to 20 gender-neutral restrooms.

Research and Creative Endeavors

•  Faculty and staff research proposals increased 11 percent last year, and external research funding rose 8 percent to $130 million. Forty-nine of the faculty members who participated in our Grants and Research Enterprise Writing workshop have already submitted 124 proposals. Of the 62 reviewed, 34 have been awarded a total of $7.1 million.

•  Notable recent grants include a $1.4 million NIH award to public health researcher Nada Kassem to assess toxicity of waterpipe tobacco smoke, $612,000 from the NSF for mechanical engineer Kaveh Akbari Hamed to improve controlled prosthetic legs, a $500,000 Freedom Fund grant to sociology professor Sheldon Zhang to study slavery in India, a $449,000 interdisciplinary NSF grant to Ming-Hsiang Tsou, Atsushi Nara, Sahar Ghanipoor Machiani and Xianfeng Yang to use social media and software to improve emergency evacuations, and a $300,000 NSF grant to education researcher Felisha Herrera Villarreal to study student mobility across institutions. 

•  Institutional Review Board software was implemented to streamline the review of research on human subjects. 

•  Kevin Popovic was hired as the director of the ZIP (Zahn Innovation Platform) Idea Lab to help integrate design thinking into problem-solving, and the lab is offering introductory workshops on design thinking for faculty, staff, and students and starting work with faculty interested in incorporating design thinking. John Eger was appointed our ZIP Professor of Creativity & Innovation.

•  Last month, more than 700 people attended the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture with writer Matt de la Pena, who is an alumnus and a Newbery Medal winner.

•  Our Campanile Foundation Board has established an Arts Alive SDSU committee that will work to raise our national profile as an arts-infused university.

Community and Communication

Our community’s achievements are being recognized across the nation. SDSU was named one of the nation’s best schools for undergraduates by the Princeton Review, and we moved up to No. 74 in the U.S. News and World Report ranking of public universities – a jump of 27 spots in five years. We also received our fourth consecutive HEED Award for diversity and made the Campus Pride Index of top LGBTQ-friendly universities for a seventh consecutive year. 

A comprehensive update on strategic plan initiatives is found at under the “Progress Updates” tab. 


Several long-awaited projects have been completed, including street repaving and the renumbering – in sequential order – of parking lots and structures. Centennial Mall turf removal will reduce water use by 63 percent, decrease greenhouse gases and create shaded seating. A new rec field near PS 12 is open for sports clubs, intramural leagues and community drop-in hours.
Student housing at South Campus Plaza will open in January, and retail spaces will be occupied by fall 2017. These include Trader Joe’s market, Eureka! and Broken Yolk restaurants, and several others. Interior mechanical work has begun on the Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences Complex, and it opens in early 2018.


Philanthropy is an integral part of the university’s success, and The Campaign for SDSU has raised $729 million – including $144 million for scholarships. We will name the new Clay Gateway at our Campanile Drive entrance to honor alumni Nikki and Ben Clay, who pledged $500,000 for scholarships. On Oct. 25, our first 24-hour campaign, the “Great Give,” brings us together in a common purpose. You can show your Aztec pride by supporting our colleges and 22 unique initiatives and by following real-time results on the Great Give web page.

In Appreciation
All of our successes and accomplishments reflect the hard work and commitment of our faculty, staff and students. We are grateful for everything you are doing to move SDSU forward, and we hope your autumn proves productive and satisfying.

Past University Updates may be found at the University Update web page.