By Elizabeth Casillas, Nov. 9, 2021

As part of the California State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025, or GI 2025, Cal Poly Pomona reported the campus increased its freshman four-year and six-year graduation rates, as well as its transfer two-year and four-year rates; however, equity gaps continue to persist on campus.

Cal Poly Pomona is crafting solutions to ensure students have the resources they need to be successful in their college endeavors. Whether this be one-on-one sessions with advisors, extra tutoring or outreach programs, faculty and staff are working toward closing these equity gaps completely.

“This is an institutional responsibility,” said S. Terri Gomez, associate provost for student success, equity and innovation. “Yes, students are suffering through the pandemic. Yes, we know this group is really suffering a disparate impact, but they are our students, and we have an institutional responsibility to better serve them.”

In 2020, the equity gap for underrepresented minority students, or URM students, was 10.3%. In the past year, the URM equity gap has increased according to projections by the Office of Student Success, Equity and Innovation to 14%. This is a higher percentage than the overall California State University rate for the URM equity gap, which is 12.4%.

*2021 figures are projections from developing data | Source: Office of Student Success and Equity (Elizabeth Casillas | The Poly Post)
*2021 figures are projections from developing data | Source: Office of Student Success and Equity (Elizabeth Casillas | The Poly Post)

As part of its goal to minimize the equity gap experienced by URM students, the campus has allocated funds to specific pockets of the university focused on bridging the gap. According to Dora Lee, director of Academic Support & Learning Services, this does not mean they are only focusing on these students; the emphasis placed on lowering URM equity rates ends up positively impacting the university and student success due to the increase of campus help.

The Reading, Advising & Mentoring Program, or RAMP, at CPP is a program which dedicates itself to increasing the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students. It specializes in providing extra help to students through advising, reading tutorials and peer mentorship.

Another program Lee cited was the Learning Resource Center, or LRC, which is another tool students are encouraged to take advantage of, especially URM students. With COVID-19 affecting minority students disproportionately, the LRC has adapted and reached out with different formats and sources of help. According to Lee, the online option of meeting a tutor has encouraged students to seek out tutoring with this new ease of access, and the LRC has also begun hosting speakeasies where students can practice a different language.

“There isn’t a secret sauce that’s going to magically take care of everything,” said Lee. “We need to be very intentional about how we design programs to address the different needs of all of our students. My goal is to design something for every single student here at Cal Poly, but with 27,000 students, we have to do what we can and look at some of the trends that each of our communities bring in and look at ways to support them.”

With the work done so far, CPP saw a decrease in the equity gap for Pell-eligible students. In 2020, the equity gap was 7.5%; current numbers project 2021’s gap to be 3.1%. The CSU boasts a 10.2% rate with 2021 data.

The Educational Opportunity Program, or EOP, has been one of the driving forces behind this decrease in equity gap for Pell-eligible students. The program works with first-generation students who meet a low-income standard, and this is primarily, but not limited to URM students. EOP provides help to students ranging from filling out the FAFSA to personal advising sessions. To match the needs of Pell-eligible and URM students, EOP was able to start a loaner laptop process as well as provide students with a Wi-Fi hot spot. However, Gomez stressed the importance of student outreach relating to equity gaps.

“We’re going to start taking a look at the data even closer and really do a deep dive into the data to see exactly what we need to do for those students,” said Leticia Guzman Scott, executive director for the Office of Student Support and Equity Programs. “Some students are connected with different programs and offices on campus, but some are not, and I have a feeling, I believe the ones that are not connected with anything or don’t feel a sense of connection to Cal Poly Pomona, or are engaged with our campus, are probably the ones that are not doing as well.”

As for graduation rates, the university was able to increase its rates compared to previous years. In 2020, the university had a 26.5% rate among freshman four-year students. In its numbers for 2021, this graduation rate is projected at 29%; the Cal State University’s rate for 2021 is 33%. However, each campus has its own goal depending on when GI 2025 started. CPP’s goal is 34% for 2021, and 38% by 2025.

The university also increased its freshman first-time, six-year graduation rates in comparison to previous years. In 2020, the university had a 67.4% graduation rate; in its numbers for 2021, this graduation rate is projected at 70.1%. The Cal State University’s rate for 2021 is 63%. CPP’s 2021 goal is 71%, and its 2025 goal is 38%.

*2021 figures are projections from developing data | Source: Office of Student Success and Equity (Elizabeth Casillas | The Poly Post)
*2021 figures are projections from developing data | Source: Office of Student Success and Equity (Elizabeth Casillas | The Poly Post)

According to Gomez, CPP’s emphasis on STEM majors lowers the chance for students to graduate in four years. However, the campus is still proactively working to raise this percentage. It is focusing on a Take 30 campaign which has students taking 15-unit semesters or taking 12-unit semesters plus summer school.

As this program rolled out, Gomez noticed the most successful students were the ones who took 15 units each semester, regardless of race, sex, GPA or major.

To help with graduation rates, the university also placed an emphasis on summer classes; it used funding from the 2021 Summer Completion Grant Initiative to pick up the tuition for students enrolling in the last class they need to graduate during summer. They are provided with an award regardless of their income level to help them reach their goals.

“If you complete in the summer, it still counts on our graduation rates from last academic year. If we hold them over to fall, then it’s on this year’s academic rates,” said Gomez. “For us, it was really important to try to find incentives. What we found is a lot of a lot of students just needed that one extra class, and if we could make it work with the colleges to make sure they offered it in the summer, and we supported the students, we were able to get them over the finish line.”

As for CPP two-year transfer student graduates, the university boasted an increase in the last two years. In 2020, the two-year transfer graduation rate was 27.9%. Based on 2021 numbers, the projected rate is 33%, a number which easily surpassed the 2021 campus goal of 24.2%. By 2025, the campus hopes to keep surpassing its GI 2025 goal of 29%.

Four-year transfer students also demonstrated an increase in graduation rates. In 2020, the four-year graduation rate for transfer students was 77.2%, and the current projected rate is 79.3%. The target for this year was 79.2%, and the 2025 goal stands at 85%.

Winny Dong, faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, recently received a $5 million grant from the United States Department of Education along with six other faculty members. Part of the purpose of this Student Success and Transfer Articulation through Research and Support Services, or STARS, was to engage students through research as well as create strong transfer pathways between community colleges and CPP.

Dong stated that to raise two-year transfer student rates, these transfer pathways would emphasize relevant courses at community colleges for students to be able to dive into third-year level courses once they began at CPP, effectively reducing the amount of time they would need to graduate.

“As an institution, we’re doing what we can in response to GI 2025,” said Lee. “I know that there’s definitely a lot of pressure. We feel a lot of pressure, and we want to do our best. We don’t want to do it just because there is a hole out there; we’re doing it because this is what we value, and we’re in this because we believe in our students and want the best for our students.”

Correction: This article was edited on Nov. 15 to correct the name of the Educational Opportunity Program. 

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