A CSU degree in four years? Valley campuses aim to help students finish faster

CSU leaders want to see 40% of students graduate in four years

Sylvia Carrothers leads her class of 8th graders at Winton Middle School on the first day of school in August 2023. Carrothers grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and attended Fresno State. Credit: Rachel Livinal KVPR/CVJC


Central Valley Journalism Collaborative/KVPR

September 11, 2023

WINTON, Calif. (CVJC/KVPR) – Sylvia Carrothers is beginning her fifth year of teaching this school year. But it took an even longer period to complete the education she needed to launch her profession.

To earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and her teaching credential, Carrothers spent eight years at Fresno State. Five of those years were spent working on her bachelor’s degree. 

Carrothers, who is now a resource teacher at Winton Middle School in Merced County, is not alone in spending more time than expected at a California State University campus. A new report from the education watchdog group Campaign for College Opportunity shows the CSU system is falling short of graduation goals it has set for each campus, including the three campuses in the San Joaquin Valley: Fresno State, Stanislaus State in Turlock and CSU Bakersfield. 

The goals the CSU system hopes to achieve by 2025 include having 70% of new students earn their bachelor’s degree within six years, with 40% doing so within four years.

A four-year college degree once was thought of as the norm, but many students take longer for various reasons, such as needing to work, changing majors or having trouble getting into the courses they need.

Across CSU’s 23 campuses, just over 62% of students earn a degree in six years, and 35% do so within four years.

In the Valley, Fresno State is closest to reaching the six-year goal, with 69% of students doing so, followed by Stan State at 65% and CSU Bakersfield at 56%.

For the four-year goal, Stanislaus is highest among the three campuses, with 37% of students finishing on time; followed by Fresno at 35% and Bakersfield at 30%.

Campuses making up for COVID setbacks

According to Ben Duran, the former president of Merced College and now executive director of the nonprofit Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, the pandemic slowed progress for many students – something that was impossible to have predicted when CSU set its graduation goals back in 2015. 

“It’s one thing to set goals 10 years ago and saying ‘In 2025, we’re going to graduate this many people,’ and then not be aware of all of the things that might be happening to impact those goals,” Duran said.

The experience of isolating during COVID has led to a “lack of engagement” across the field of education, according to Xuanning Fu, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State. “We are making it up gradually.”

And while Valley campuses are short of the graduation goals, there has been progress.

At Fresno State, Fu said the school is offering extra instruction and tutoring for classes that have higher rates of failures.

And at CSU Stanislaus, where the second-most declared major among freshmen is “undeclared,” the university created a program to “guide those freshmen to explore what they want,” says Tracy Myers, the student retention coordinator for student affairs.

The idea is that students are able to explore a variety of fields during their first two years of general education work rather than focusing on courses in a specific major that they could later realize is not a good fit for them.

And at CSU Bakersfield, the four-year graduation rate for first-time students has improved by 15% over the past seven years.

Jennifer McCune, CSU Bakersfield’s director of enrollment services and university registrar, said part of that jump could be attributed to dual-enrollment courses that allow high school students to earn credit for high school and college at the same time.

“College credit gives them a feel for the rigor of college coursework and what to expect,” McCune says.

Campus relationships improve student success

Community colleges appear to boost student success in the Valley, with many students spending their first two years at a community college campus before transferring to a CSU school to complete their bachelor’s degrees. 

At Stanislaus and Bakersfield, at least 45% of such transfer students graduate in two years. Fresno, at 34%, is still short of the statewide goal.

Stuart Wooley (left), associate vice president for academic affairs at Stanislaus State and Tracy Myers, the school’s student retention coordinator, are working to help students complete their degrees. Credit: Rachel Livinal/KVPR

Campus staff say the Valley’s CSU campuses collaborate closely with local community colleges, a relationship that benefits the students they have in common, said Stuart Wooley, associate vice president for academic affairs at Stanislaus State.

“The staff here know the staff there, and some of the people that work here used to work there, and some people that work there used to work here and so we have these relationships with them,” Wooley said.

Duran, of the higher education consortium, said local pride in the Valley’s CSU campuses plays a part in encouraging students to apply to a school and stick with it.

“When you get into Kern County, you’ll see people on the street wearing CSU Bakersfield Road Runner T-shirts,” Duran says. “If you get into Fresno, half of Fresno wears the red shirts.”

At Winton Middle School, Carrothers thinks back on the challenges she faced getting through college – failing some of her early classes, switching majors and spending long hours commuting from Atwater her first two years. But, she stuck with it and, in the end, it paid off, she said.

“You have to get your certification in order to teach,” she said. “And if I would have dropped out after my second year, I don’t know where I would be.”

Rachel Livinal covers higher education for KVPR in Fresno and the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced. Sign up for CVJC’s free Substack list  cvjc.substack.com and follow CVJC on Facebook.

This story was published in partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit and nonpartisan community newsroom. To get regular coverage from the CVJC, sign up for CVJC’s free Substack list  cvjc.substack.com and follow CVJC on Facebook.

Stanislaus State to Celebrate the Class of 2023 During Commencement May 25 & 26

CVV News l May 22, 2023

Stanislaus State will celebrate its Class of 2023 during the University’s Commencement ceremonies in the University Amphitheater Thursday, May 25, and Friday, May 26. 

This year, 2,988 graduates and 373 credential recipients will be honored during three ceremonies held over two days. All three ceremonies will be livestreamed, and the viewing links will be available on the University’s Commencement webpage.  

This year, graduates will enjoy the return of all Commencement traditions — a processional, walking across the stage as their names are announced and faculty members in their academic regalia as they cheer and celebrate their students’ achievements. Some of the traditional Commencement rituals were paused for the 2021 and 2022 ceremonies due to COVID-19 restrictions.  

“We are looking forward to celebrating our outstanding Class of 2023 and are excited to share this incredible milestone with our graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to graduate from college,” said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn. “It is a monumental moment not only for them but for their families as well.” 

This year’s ceremonies are especially poignant for Junn, as they will be her last as president.  Junn announced earlier this year her plan to retire this summer after serving seven years as president and a 39-year career in higher education. During her tenure, Stanislaus State achieved numerous achievements, including being named among California’s Top 10 universities by MONEY Magazine in 2022 along with Stanford University, UCLA and UC Berkeley.  

“I’ve worked at five other CSU campuses during my career, but Stanislaus State will always hold a special place in my heart,” Junn said.  “As I prepare to embark on my own new beginning, I’m filled with immense pride to see our students ready to face the world equipped with the knowledge and wisdom they have gained during their time as Warriors.” 

The festivities begin 8 a.m. Thursday, May 25, with the ceremony for the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The College of Business Administration and College of Education, Kinesiology and Social Work will hold a joint ceremony the same day at 4 p.m. 

During the Thursday afternoon ceremony, the University will recognize father and son community leaders and philanthropists Norm and Evan Porges by conferring its highest honor, the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. The Porgeses will address the graduates with brief remarks during the ceremony. 

On Friday, May 26, the University will host graduates from the College of Science during a morning ceremony starting at 8 a.m.  

Student speakers also will address their fellow graduates. Communication studies major Briana Sanchez will deliver remarks during Thursday morning’s ceremony, and Krishan Malhotra, who is earning a Master of Business Administration, will speak during the afternoon event. Nina Lydon, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, will speak during the Friday morning ceremony.  

Media interested in covering commencement must register to gain entrance to the ceremonies. Please email Donna Birch Trahan in Communications and Public Affairs to register. The deadline for media registration is noon Wednesday, May 25.   

Visit Stanislaus State’s Commencement website for additional information. 

Apply Now: California College Corps Is Offering Students Much More Than $10,000 Stipends

Edward Henderson | California Black Media | March 20, 2023

Josh Fryday serves as California’s Chief Service Ocer within the Oce of Governor Gavin Newsom to lead service, volunteer, and civic engagement eorts throughout California.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s #CaliforniansForAll College Corps program which has so far provided $10,000 grants to some 6,500 low-income college students as a stipend in exchange for their community service work.

Nearly a year after the paid-service program was first announced, the Governor’s office is hailing its impact on communities and the lives of the students who participate in it.

“The program has proven to be a transformative experience for both students and the organizations where they work,” said Sandy Close, director of Ethnic Media Services, who recently moderated a press briefing to inform the public about the program’s contribution and some of the challenges it has faced.

The event, co-hosted by California Black Media, featured stakeholders representing all aspects of the program talking about their experiences.

“I feel like I’ve gone from being a student who once desperately needed a safe space to learn to being the trusted adult who can provide students with a natural learning environment where they each have a deep sense of belonging, knowing they are seen,

heard, supported and valued,” said Emilio Ruiz, a 24-year-old student pursuing his teaching certification.

Ruiz shared his experiences as a College Corps fellow, mentioning how his upbringing as a child of divorced parents — constantly moving, experiencing financial distress, and witnessing domestic abuse – spurred his desire for a safe space to learn and grow.

College Corps, Ruiz says, gave him an opportunity to receive his education without the added stress of taking on financial aid debt. Moreover, he gained practical experience while doing service-oriented work in his community.

College Corps is a state initiative that addresses “societal challenges” by creating a generation of civic-minded leaders from low-income families. Its programs focus on challenges facing California like climate resilience and economic inequality.

According to the Governor’s office, Black and Latino students have the highest rates of student loan default and owe an estimated $147 billion in college loan debt.

In Long Beach, Project Optimism, currently hosts two College Corps fellows from CSU Long Beach (CSULB). Both are first generation college students. One is undocumented.

According to Ishmael Pruitt, CEO and cofounder, Project Optimism is a non-profit that supports equitable access to nature

and environmental justice education to elementary aged children within the Long Beach Unified School District. It focuses on mentorship, empowerment, and uniting community engagement (including food insecurity), and personal development.

“We are big on mentoring the mentor,” said Pruitt. “Every intern and employee gets mentored by myself, one of the other directors, or someone from our board. So, they get direct coaching and support beyond their role working with us.”

Beth Manke is a program lead at CSULB. She matches College Corps students with the non-profit organizations they are assigned to for the program. Manke currently supervises 50 undergraduate students, completing 450 hours of work for 27 different organizations.

“We envision the service they are completing as internships. These are experiences that have proven to be quite transformative for our students,” said Manke. “We honor and draw on the students’ cultural backgrounds by acknowledging their life experiences and how they shape their academic success and well-being.”

The briefing also focused on the challenges students are facing on college campuses post-pandemic and how College Corps can help alleviate some of those issues.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith, a clinical psychologist and Diversity Lead of Student Life at the University of Washington spoke about some of the mental health challenges students are facing and avenues for healing.

“Anxiety is a leading factor for folks on college campuses,” said Dr. Briscoe-Smith. “There was an escalation for students with

mental health challenges pre-pandemic. We are finding we are anticipating beating levels of worsening mental health on campus. Many clinicians are hearing challenges of hopelessness, purposelessness, and isolation. Finding purpose through service is something that can be very helpful. The skills that you’re learning and to be able to see yourself in the folks that you serve is an amazing opportunity for transformation and connection.”

Josh Fryday, California’s Chief Service Officer, introduced the College Corps program a year ago and closed the event with remarks about the hope service can provide.

“When it comes to creating and fostering hope, what we know is that it’s so much more than creating a belief. It’s about action. It’s about a plan. It’s about having a real path for change. That’s what people are looking for. We are seeing the impact in the first 9 months. It gives me hope, the governor hope, and we know it’s going to bring hope to our entire state for many years to come.”

Eighty percent of students in the Corps are self-identified students of color and 70% are Pell grant recipients. Five hundred undocumented dreamers throughout the state of California participate in the program.

For more information on College Corps and applying to be a fellow, visit California Volunteers.

State Leaders: Beat Deadline; Apply Now for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media | Posted: September 2,2022

(CBM) – California Attorney General (AG) Rob Bonta is urging Californians to take advantage of recent changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) programs.

Bonta’s announcement coincides with a CNBC survey that reports 31% of Black women are disproportionately impacted by student debt. Also, four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed, according to the Educational Data Initiative (EDI).

Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda), a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) shared her own struggles with paying back student debt she owed.
“I graduated with over $150,000 in student debt. I was in my 20s then,” she said. “I didn’t make my final payment until almost 20 years later, just in time to send my oldest daughter to college.”

According to Bonta, a Black woman owes 112% of the loan amount she takes out 12 years after starting college. For a Latina, 12 years after starting college, she will owe 86% of that loan.

“Black and Latino students, coming from low-income communities take on a disproportionately amount of school debt,” Bonta said. “I witness this every single day.”
The PSLF and TEPSLF programs are entirely different from President Joe Biden’s plan for targeted student debt cancellation to borrowers with loans held by the Department of Education. Qualifying borrowers must have “annual income of under

$125,000 (for individuals) or under $250,000 (for married couples or heads of households). Borrowers who qualify can have up to $10,000 worth of eligible debt canceled. If the borrower received a Pell Grant, the borrower could have up to a total of $20,000 of debt canceled.
Biden also extended the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections through December 31, 2022.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched a limited-time PSLF Waiver opportunity that runs through Oct. 31. It allows eligible borrowers to receive credit for past student loan payments that would otherwise not qualify under the PSLF program.
ED improved the PSLF program in response to a lawsuit and years-long advocacy by a number of state attorneys general and others urging ED to fix the broken program.
Following resolution of the lawsuit, AG Bonta has continued to advocate for changes to the PSLF program. The California Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking part in the California Student Loan Debt Challenge to raise awareness about the PSLF program to help DOJ employees’ access loan forgiveness.

“On behalf of the more than 5,000 public servants at the California Department of Justice, I’m proud to take the California Student Debt Challenge,” AG Bonta said. “Our public servants work day-in and day-out on behalf of the people of California as our nurses, teachers, first responders, state workers, and more. I urge you to take advantage of the new PSLF Limited Waiver Opportunity before the Oct. 31 deadline.”
California ranks No. 13 among states on student loan debt with borrowers owing an average of $37,084. California’s student loan debt adds up to $141.8 billion, the largest amount of any state.

According to EDI, student loan debt statistics show tremendous disparities among racial and ethnic groups.

African American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more debt than White graduates. Four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed.

Black student borrowers are the most likely to struggle financially due to student loan debt, with 29% making monthly payments of $350 or more. About 3% of California borrowers owe more than $200,000 and nearly 10% of the state’s population have student loan debt.
The moratorium on federal student loan payments expires on Aug. 31. A total of 43 million Americans owe student loan debt — worth $1.6 trillion, federal data shows.

“Thankfully now, there are federal and state programs that can play a critical role in reducing or eliminating student debt altogether,” Mia Bonta said. “Now we have this last opportunity to spread awareness about these programs. Beyond that, we have to simplify the application process and create a better coordinated, outreach program between institutions of higher learning, the government, and the private sector.”

Under the limited PSLF waiver rules, any past periods of repayment count as a qualifying payment, regardless of loan type, repayment plan, or whether or not the borrower made a payment, or if the payment was made in full or on time.

Each borrower needs to work for a qualifying employer, private or non-profit. The Temporary change applies to borrowers with Direct Loans, those who have already consolidated into the Direct Loan Program, and those who consolidate into the Direct Loan Program by Oct. 31, 2022.

There are two requirements in order to receive additional qualifying payments:
Full-time employment – Borrowers must have worked full-time for a qualifying employer during the prior periods of repayment. They receive credit only for periods of repayment after Oct. 1, 2007, which is when the PSLF program began.

Loan consolidation – Borrowers with Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Federal Perkins Loans, or other types of federal student loans that are not Direct Loans must consolidate those loans into the Direct Loan program by Oct. 31, 2022.
If the borrower had Direct Loans and had PSLF employment certified, ED will award additional payments without further action. If necessary, Federal Student Aid may contact the borrower to certify additional months of employment.

An employer needs to be a governmental organization, a 501(c)(3) organization, or a not-for-profit organization that provides a designated public service in order to qualify for PSLF under normal rules and the Limited PSLF Waiver.

“My team has advocated for years for the Department of Education to fix this broken program, and with the recent changes under the Biden Administration, Californians are finally beginning to receive relief,” AG Bonta stated.

Get more information on the loan forgiveness program visit: U.S. Department of Education

California Announced as Winner of the Nation’s Preeminent Award for Education Innovation

Published: Jun 22, 2022

“There is no other state doing as much to advance educational equity for its neediest students as California is doing today”

The Education Commission of the States announced California as the winner of the 2022 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation, the preeminent education policy award in the nation, in recognition of California’s improvements in educating all students and closing equity gaps.

“California is transforming education from pre-kindergarten through to college and beyond, empowering students and families with more supports, more choices, and more opportunities,” said Governor Newsom. “This award recognizes the hard work that’s gone into this transformative change by leaders throughout the state – including legislators, state government partners, educators, staff, administrators, and local leaders – and the winners here are California’s kids and parents.”

According to the Commission, California received this award for “its coordinated approach to educating all students from preschool to postsecondary, with explicit attention toward whole-child supports and services, as well as its historic financial investments to ensure educational equity.” Here’s what else the Commission had to say about California’s achievements:

  • “In the last two years, the state has approved an ongoing increase to the school funding formula to add more teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals and other student support providers on campuses. The budget also includes a large investment to scale summer, before- and after-school programming; and to convert thousands of schools into full-service community schools with wraparound supports. Additionally, beginning this school year, all public school students began to receive two free meals per day, regardless of family income status.”
  • “The state’s investments are not limited to K-12; they extend into both ends of the education continuum, early learning and postsecondary. For example, the state is on track to have universal pre-K available for all 4-year-olds by 2025, and it has already expanded its popular Cal Grant scholarship program, which benefited an additional 100,000 community college students last year. Leaders also allocated funding to construct affordable student housing and $115 million to expand zero-cost textbooks and open-educational resources.”
  • “California is demonstrating an intentional, comprehensive investment of funding and other resources that recognize and honor whole-child approaches to education, not only instruction.”

Since taking office, Governor Newsom has prioritized funding for public education, most recently having proposed the highest level of funding in state history – over $128 billion for California’s schools, amounting to $22,850 per pupil. That is up from $97 billion, or $16,350 per pupil, when he took office. In addition, the last enacted budget included total funding of over $47 billion for higher education.

Key investments include, but are not limited to:

  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten: California’s children will have access to crucial high-quality instruction by age 4 – effectively adding a new grade to the traditional K-12 system – regardless of a family’s income or immigration status. Additional funds are provided to construct facilities and to cut the adult-to-student ratio in half (1:12), with full-scale implementation anticipated by 2025.
  • Universal Extended-Day Learning: All elementary school students will have access to before- and after-school programs, as well as summer learning opportunities, by 2025. Schools serving the highest concentration of vulnerable students are prioritized for expedited implementation.
  • Universal Free Meals: No student will need to learn on an empty stomach, with all students having the choice of two free, nutritious meals per day – regardless of income or family status.
  • Community Schools: Thousands of schools will be transformed into hubs meeting the needs of students and families, including mental health services, support for basic needs such as food pantries, wraparound social services, and improved family engagement.
  • Youth Behavioral Health: Youth ages 0-25 will have access to a revamped youth behavioral health system, including an online one-stop hub and billions invested to integrate mental health services with schools.
  • College Savings Accounts: Every low-income public school student will have an account opened in their name with a seed deposit of $500 to $1,500 – cultivating a college-going mindset, building generational wealth, promoting college affordability, and developing financial literacy.
  • Tuition-Free Community College: First-time, full-time students can attend community college tuition-free for two years. High school students will also be encouraged and supported to dual-enroll in community college.
  • Post-Secondary Compacts: With a multi-billion-dollar reinvestment in higher education over five years, the UC, CSU, and community colleges will create seats for tens of thousands of students, close equity gaps in graduation, create debt-free pathways, and support students to enter into critical fields, such as climate, education, and healthcare.
  • Non-Tuition Costs: Access to affordable student housing will be expanded to thousands of students and significantly more courses will use open-source or other zero-textbook-cost options.
  • Regional Empowerment: Implementation will be coordinated and amplified by regional structures – including K-16 Collaboratives and partners working through the Community Economic Resilience Fund – to ensure local empowerment and collaboration across historic silos.
  • Data & Transparency: The transformational policies will be backed by a nation-leading cradle-to-career data system, which will provide transparency to parents, policymakers, and practitioners on how students are served and can be served better.

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Felicia Roberts took an idea gathered a few people to reached into a minority community to highlight the positive, using a minority newspaper the Central Valley Voice. Roberts was joined by her sisters Carolyn Williams, Alleashia Thomas, niece Hermonie Lynn Williams, nephew Ron Williams, cousin Jerald Lester, Jay Slaffey, Greg Savage, Tim Daniels and the late J Denise Fontaine. Each individual played an important role in the birth of the newspapers. Since, then many have stood strong behind the success of the newspapers and its goal to fill a void in the Central Valley community The Central Valley Voice published their 1st issue in November 1991. Its purposed was to highlight the achievements of minorities in the Central Valley. The Voice focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans and Hispanics giving young people role models while diminishing the stereotypical pictures of gangs, crime and violence that permeate the minority communities. Since 1991, the Central Valley Voice has provided an important voice for the minority community throughout the Madera, Merced. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

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