Cal State Fullerton breaks down barriers to graduation – Orange County Register

By Anil Puri

Cal State Fullerton

Walk into any grocery store in May and you’ll be met with clouds of balloons, flower leis and greeting cards at the ready to congratulate a beaming new crop of graduates.

This month another group is just as deserving of our pride and praise.

Anil Puri Photo courtesy Cal State Fullerton

Exactly 116 Cal State Fullerton students who joined our campus as freshmen in 2013 cut short their beach trips and family vacations this summer to take final courses to complete their degrees. With their passing grades, due any minute, this determined group will receive their diplomas and take their place among our growing family of more than 280,000 Titan alumni.

Attaining a college degree is always reason to celebrate, but these graduates are especially noteworthy.

These Titans are blazing a trail for Cal State Fullerton’s Graduation Initiative 2025, a campuswide collaboration now well underway. While upholding high academic standards, the initiative aims to close opportunity gaps and pilot innovative ways to break down academic, administrative, financial or social barriers to timely graduation.

On track to graduate in 4.5 years, these 116 students were identified this spring and offered “completion grants” to secure their degrees — in four years — this summer. Nearly a quarter are the first in their families to attend college, half qualify as low income, and half are underrepresented students of color. All are now poised to change our communities for the better.

A quick and effective hit, the experimental grants are just one of numerous strategies Cal State Fullerton is employing to optimize graduation rates. Here are three more examples:

First-Year Experience

Most of us have had the uncomfortable experience of walking into a bustling party where we didn’t know a soul — and most of us didn’t stay long.

We can’t afford to let our freshmen head home.

Launched last year with stellar stats, and expanded this fall, our First-Year Experience program greets new students at the door, connects them with multicultural peers and links them with a campuswide network of Student Success Teams, advisers and other proven support.

Central to the program are new University 100 courses, offered for general-education credit, in which freshmen pinpoint their passions, explore career paths, and develop the skills, habits and grit that will carry them through a lifetime. An impressive 85 percent of undeclared freshmen have enrolled this…

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