Minority graduation rates rise for SF State, a rarity in the west

Jennifer Summit, dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning, is seated at a rectangular table outdoors, flanked by five students.

Jennifer Summit, dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning, meets with tutors from the Campus Academic Resource Program (CARP), a free tutorial service dedicated to providing academic support for all SF State undergraduate students. From left: Christopher Arreola, Keegan Medrano, Heather Grossbard, Dean Jennifer Summit, Julisa Franco and Darya Fedorova.

San Francisco State University counts as one of only three institutions on the West Coast to increase graduation rates among underrepresented minorities (URMs) by 12 or more percentage points, while also reducing the graduation gap between URMs and white students, a recent study revealed. 

The Education Trust, a national nonprofit education advocacy group, examined graduation rates among students at 1,309 public and private nonprofit four-year colleges between 2003 and 2013. The report — "Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students?" — found that only 26 of the schools examined increased rates at the 12 percent or higher level. The other West Coast universities were San Diego State University and Washington
State University.

Although she calls the report encouraging, Jennifer Summit, SF State dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning, said the University is constantly monitoring its progress and asking, "What can we learn from what we're doing that works, and how can we scale those lessons so that they reach even more of
our students?"

Among things that work, Summit cited a number of existing programs on campus that directly boost student success, including the Campus Academic Resource Program (CARP), which helps students meet their academic goals with the support of trained peer tutors, the Summer Bridge Program, the Guardian Scholars Program, Project Rebound and the Metro Academies College Success Program (Metro).

Students in the award-winning Metro program, Summit pointed out, are largely URM students from underserved backgrounds, PELL-grant eligible and the first in their family to attend college. "I see Metro as sort of a student success lab," she said.

Metro redesigns the first two years of college, the critical period when many struggling students tend to drop out. Participants study in a cohort of up to 70 students that's like a school within a school, receiving tutoring, extra counseling and one-on-one support from faculty. “The payoff is that Metro students have a four-year graduation rate that’s nearly twice that of their peers outside the program,” Summit said.

"These are students who haven't had the benefit of the super-intensive support that students from well-resourced high schools can get,” Summit explained. “Our research shows that these are students who benefit from
high-impact practices."

Summit also co-chairs the campuswide Student Success and Graduation Initiative Task Force, comprised of administrators, faculty, staff and students. "Our goal is to increase the six-year graduation rate to 65 percent by 2025, with no gap between URM students and white students," she said. The current graduation rate total is 50 percent, versus 45 percent for URM students.

"By 2025, unless we do something drastic, California will be short 1 million college-educated workers," Summit said. "That's because 65 percent of the new jobs being created require a college degree. This is where the rubber of our mission meets the road."

Summit said the task force is concentrating on several focus areas to meet the 2025 goal.

"When students are asked to name two things that would significantly enhance their experience at SF State and their ability to complete their degree on time, the answers are, No. 1, course availability and, No. 2, quality of advising," Summit said. 

In terms of course availability, she noted that a task force will be created this semester to review course offerings, timing and classroom space. "We are in the process of implementing planning and scheduling tools that will allow students to better plan their schedules. Those will make a huge difference," she said.    

An operational review of advising was recently completed, Summit said, and advising resources across campus will be more closely integrated and coordinated. "The most important thing our advisers can do is not only tell our students what courses they need to take to fulfill their general education requirements, but provide personal support by exploring their strengths and really helping them understand their options and commitments," she said.

The University's strategic plan includes a number of elements that address student success, and next year, more than likely, a review of tutoring resources will begin, Summit said.

"It's never been more urgent to develop and retain our homegrown talent in San Francisco," Summit said. "That's on us. It is our opportunity to turn our mission into action and to serve our community in the way that only we can. Our students are so worth it."