Sometimes it’s money for tuition that slows a student’s path to graduation. Sometimes it’s not being able to get that final class needed for a degree. Cal Poly Pomona tackled both obstacles with an innovative Summer Completion Initiative.
The result: an impressive 93% degree completion rate for participants.
What’s Unique: Free Tuition and More, as Well as Guaranteed Classes
Last spring, Cal Poly Pomona reached out to more than 1,000 students who were 8 units or fewer from completing their degree and encouraged them to apply for new summer completion grants that would cover tuition, books and supplies, parking and an on-campus food allowance. In one case, it also covered on-campus housing for the five-week summer term. Of the 394 who applied, 327 received grants averaging between $2,450 and $3,200.
Among recipients, 62% were Pell Grant eligible, 61.8% were first-generation college students, and 50% were from historically under-represented groups. The cohort’s 93 % degree completion rate significantly improved the university’s equity gaps for both categories.
“We funded students regardless of financial aid status,” said Terri Gomez, associate vice president for student success. “This was a huge investment and quite a remarkable effort. It required cross-divisional collaboration between many departments across the university. And it resulted in incredible success.”
Ensured the necessary classes were taught
An important element of the program was ensuring that the classes the students needed were going to be taught in the summer session. To that end, the administration worked with each college to ensure that the classes were offered. Faculty who agreed to teach the courses were offered stipends to participate in a workshop to transform the course into a successful five-week format. Faculty also received a low enrollment waiver, which ensured they would receive full pay regardless of the number of students taking the needed classes.
“The initiative speaks to the importance of using public/private funding to support student success and to address equity gaps,” Gomez said. The budget for the student grants was $759,182 and funded by the Kellogg Legacy Foundation. No state money was used for the student-related costs. The university funded the faculty stipends.
The Summer Completion Initiative played a significant role in Cal Poly Pomona’s success in improving graduation rates and lowering equity gaps. For 2017-18, Cal Poly Pomona was one of only two California State University campuses to improve on all six of the measures tracked in the system’s Graduation Initiative 2025 (GI 2025) – freshman four-year graduation rate, freshman six-year graduation rate, transfer two-year graduation rate, transfer four-year graduation rate, reducing the equity gap for under-represented students, and reducing the equity gap for Pell Grant recipients.
At the GI 2025 Symposium in October, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White noted that, “The sooner a student graduates, the sooner she can go on to secure a job. For many new alumni, this opens doors to helping their families, helping them secure a more financially stable future, build savings accounts sooner and jump-start their careers.
“If you, as a student, earn your degree just one term earlier,” said White, “you’ll have an immediate savings of over $13,000 and a longer term gain of about $31,000 — just by graduating one term sooner.”
The summer program at Cal Poly Pomona launched 304 students into their careers and graduate studies at least one term sooner and opened that many more seats for the next group of incoming students.
Cal Poly Pomona, known for its hands-on approach to learning, has approximately 26,000 students. Students work on average 20 hours per week, 76 percent are eligible to receive federal financial aid, and over 50 percent of students are the first in their family to attend college.