Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Graduation Initiative Delivery Plan Summary

In 2008, as part of Cal Poly's strategic planning and WASC self-study process, we developed an  information-based, personalized communications strategy for advising enrolled students in an effort to improve retention rates and, ultimately, to improve our graduation rates. This decision was motivated in part by the observation that while Cal Poly has the best graduation rates in the CSU, Cal Poly also is  classified as a highly selective public master's institution, and our average six-year graduation rate falls below the average of other highly selective universities. 

A self examination of possible contributing factors determined that program mix is a significant issue.   STEM fields across the nation suffer from lower graduation rates than non-STEM disciplines.  Indeed, when a group of fifteen universities with similar program mix was used as a comparator, Cal Poly was statistically indistinguishable.  Nonetheless, graduation rates among women students and transfer students averaged over all disciplines significantly exceeded the campus average as well as the averages of comparator groups. We therefore concluded that Cal Poly could continue to improve upon its overall graduation rate. 

The goal Cal Poly has set is an average six-year graduation rate equal to or greater than 80% for all identity groups for which data is collected.  While our non-STEM Colleges are near or exceed that goal, it is a significant stretch goal for some of our STEM Colleges and some of our identity groups. Toward that goal, we are now building the tools to accumulate information on each student's progress toward a degree; identify barriers to the progress we believe they should be making, and remove those barriers created by University policies or other actions, intentional or otherwise.

Examples of actions already taken include implementation of: 

  • A graduation audit module that has been added to our information tool kit along with a number of  new information tools sought by advisors. 
  • Block scheduling to resolve chronic scheduling and course-availability issues for new students and then following up with regular course availability/demand analyses to assure continuous improvement in making required courses available. 
  • A new change-of-major policy to sharply reduce wait time for decisions on requests to transfer majors.
  • Regular discussion and review of how best to coordinate and support student advising efforts (academic coaching). 

Because it takes six years to learn if changes introduced for the current year first time freshman actually  result in an increase in the average six-year graduation rate, our metrics must necessarily be progress  indicators, such as year-to-year retention rates, average course load for students (implies needed courses are available), and four- and five-year graduation rates.   

Indirect indicators can be numbers of students on academic probation, numbers of students repeating courses, wait time to change majors, and the congruence between a student's declared program of study and the recorded progress in that program.    

At this time, Cal Poly can report improvement thanks to actions already taken. As evidence, the first-to-  second-year retention rate is at an all-time high, and the average course load of enrolled students increased sharply last fall and has maintained that growth this winter term.


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