Cal Poly’s four-year graduation rate increased during the past 20 years to 47 percent, making it the highest in the college’s history, according to the digital archives and the Cal Poly Fact Book. Five-year graduation rates also increased by 40 percent to 77.1 percent and six-year graduation rates increased from 58.5 percent to 82.6 percent.
An increase in graduation rates has been a focal point of administrative goals since 1991 when President Emeritus Warren Baker said Cal Poly must “assure that the students we do enroll can get their classes and provide the services necessary to retain and graduate the students in a reasonable time,” in a memo to the university community.
First-time freshman graduation rates increased 200 percent over the past five years with what Bruno Giberti, professor of architecture and member of the current Graduation Initiative Leadership Team, describes as a mixture of changes under Provost Kathleen Enz Finken.
Under Finken, Cal Poly created degree flowcharts, designed PolyPlanner and made degree progress reports on the Cal Poly portal in what Giberti describes as an “attempt to make a clear path to graduation.” With an increase of students with higher GPAs and test scores in recent years, students are naturally going to graduate early, Giberti said.
This year’s push is led by the Graduation Initiative Leadership Team which consists of Cal Poly faculty and staff and received $800,000 funding from the California State University (CSU) System’s Graduation Initiative 2025.
The team hopes to push the CSU system’s four-year graduation rate to 40 percent and the team wants to increase Cal Poly’s rate to 71 percent.
Cal Poly is currently expected to exceed that goal by 2.7 percent according to Mary Pedersen, senior vice provost and member of the team.
The team used the funding to engage with seniors by increasing advisor outreach, using PolyPlanner to accommodate classes, increasing micro grants — small grants for people who struggle financially— and by increasing the capacity of summer courses, Pedersen said.
Though Cal Poly has the highest graduation rate of the CSU system, it is still lower than that of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara, creating an incentive for the university to continue pushing.
“We aren’t sitting around patting ourselves on the back,” Giberti said.
He also stressed that graduation rates are a “really complicated phenomenon” that many newspapers and vocal advocates do not fully understand when they talk about increasing them. They are nuanced, involving a wealth of people in unique situations at Cal Poly, all studying different subjects with different aspirations. That’s why it requires a constant rethinking of goals and why the question of what to do next is always on his mind.
In addition to the short-term goals they achieved working with the current senior class, the team also plans long-term changes to the way Cal Poly treats students.
These include an expansion of the block schedule for freshman year, allowing each department the option of planning out all three quarters for freshmen before they arrive on campus.
They also plan to hire more faculty to decrease the number of heavily impacted classes and to increase tenure density. A higher tenure density allows tenured professors to distribute the work of designing coursework and advising senior projects amongst themselves.