SJSU is ranked as the ninth best public university in the United States, according to a ranking system conducted by U.S. News based on 2011 data. Their rise in graduation rates are a key reason for why it has eclipsed the top 10 public schools in the country.
The ranking system is based on the school’s enrollment number, acceptance rate, semester’s tuition and graduation rate.
Not long ago, SJSU was struggling among public schools in the state of California, as well as in the United States.
“I just remember it being really easy to get into SJSU — easier than most other schools,” said Jonathan Copeland, a business major at SJSU.
In 2005, its graduation rate within six years was at 40.9 percent, according to College Measures, which tracks college data. SJSU had quickly developed a weary reputation.
"While six-year graduation rates at the University are disappointing, the rates for African-American and Latino males are truly dismaying,” said Ralph Wolff in 2007, the executive director of the Western Association of Schools.
Graduation rates for African-Americans and Latino males at SJSU have risen well above the disappointing rates of 2007.
According to College Measures, the graduation rate for Hispanic students is 35.9 percent, and African-Americans are now graduating in six years at 43.5 percent.
In SJSU’s Academic Year End Report for 2009-10, it stated that the university was trying to reverse the trend it had been going through.
The plan, according to this report, is to “strengthen and refocus our culture for undergraduate student success to increase our retention and graduation rates as well as close the achievement gap.”
Five years later, SJSU as a whole boasts a 48 percent six-year graduation rate among its students.
The five-year graduation for students at SJSU was 31.5 percent in 2010, and the four-year graduation rate was 7.9 percent.
The biggest jump came in 2009, when rates climbed from 41.4 percent to 46.9 percent under newly elected president Jon Whitmore. Whitmore was the president of the university from 2008-2010, where he had to deal with the state’s first set of budget setbacks that featured a 20 percent cut in state support and several waves of controversial faculty layoffs.
Despite all that, his time in office promoted a new era at SJSU, centered on developing a better reputation for the university in the state of California. Currently, SJSU is experiencing its highest success rate in years.The 2012-13 tuition rate for in-state students is $8,884 and the out-of-state tuition is $17,812 for the 2012-13 semester. There are also 24,804 students enrolled at SJSU, with 49 percent of them being male and 51 percent female. Also, more than 75 percent of applicants are accepted.
One reason for SJSU’s recent success in the graduation field is its sports programs, which have excelled within the last three years both on the field and in the classroom.
President Whitmore was a key advocate for the sports programs during his two-year reign at SJSU.
Another person responsible for the turnaround in the graduation rates of student-athletes is football coach Mike MacIntyre, who has taken the football program from a losing program having a terrible time graduating its players and keeping grades high to a winning football program with a team having success in the classroom, as well. Upon being hired at SJSU, MacIntyre stated that academics were at the forefront of success on the field.
The SJSU football team’s graduation rate for its players was 48 percent in 2011-12, according to the NCAA website. In 2008, the graduation rate was 34 percent. Also in that year, the basketball team had a 33 percent graduation rate. In comparison within the Bay Area, the University of California-Berkeley graduated 53 percent of its football players in 2008, while Stanford graduated 93 percent.
In addition to sports in general at SJSU, the entire program had 35 student-athletes named to the All-WAC Academic honors during Spring 2012, several more than both the fall and spring semesters of the previous years.
However, because of the 48 percent graduation rate for six-year students at SJSU, there is a good chance students will be staying in college for more than the traditional four years.
During the election in California in early November, residents voted “yes” on Proposition 30, which prevented spending cuts to public universities and raised sales tax one cent for every four dollars for four the next four years.
However, three proposed extra fees are still being decided upon in the California State University system.
The proposed “Graduation Incentive Fee” specifically targets “super-seniors” for their inability to graduate on time.
“Super-seniors,” or those students that attend college for longer than four years, must pay an extra $372 per unit for those who have 150 units on a semester campus or 225 units for those on a quarter campus to finish their degrees, according to a petition formed by the Students for Quality Education.
The second proposed fee increase is called the “Course Repeat Fee,” and it mandates that students who retake classes because of several reasons will need to pay $100 per unit.
The third item on the fee agenda will be the “Added Units Fee,” where students that take more than 16 units will need to pay $200 per extra unit.
The fee for “super seniors is what will carry the most wait for students, especially those who are enrolled in a California State University like SJSU.
“You were always taught that college lasts for four years,” Copeland said. “Now that is rarely the case because of classes not being available, etc.”
With the graduation rate for four-year students at SJSU being seven percent, the majority of students will be forced to pay the “super senior” fee, if it is passed.
“I feel like I am being taken advantage of, in a way,” Copeland said. “They it is not typical for kids to graduate on-time anymore, yet they’re taxing us with these fees anyway.”
In Fall 2009, the Chancellor’s Office implemented the CSU Retention and Graduation Initiative: Closing the Achievement Gap, the concept being that it would increase graduation and retention rates among first-time freshmen and transfer students across all 23 CSU campuses. According to the Office of the Provost page found on the SJSU website, “the ultimate goal is to reduce the achievement gap between represented and non-represented groups by half by AY (academic year) 2015-2016.”
According to Dr. Maureen Scharberg, Associate Vice President of Student Academic Success, graduation rates aren’t just based on unit caps, tuition increases, and academia-related matters. Student involvement with each other and engagement with the school are additional factors that impact SJSU’s graduation rates.
“Students have to be engaged with the campus, that also plays into increasing graduation rates,” Scharberg says. “Students have a big role in graduation rates, and you might say, ‘No I just go to class and do my stuff,’ but you have to understand in your classes when there’s new students do you as a student create a welcoming environment? That’s all about increasing graduation rates too.”
Scharberg explains that this especially applies to transfer students, who are particularly subject to having a somewhat socially lonely initial experience at SJSU. Another factor that has tended to hinder timely graduation rates for transfers is failure to take the WST and enroll in 100W courses.
“With our transfers coming in, we’ve really told them, if they’re planning on transferring to San Jose State, have them take the WST test before they get here,” Scharberg says. “That helps in terms of graduation rates because then they don’t get here and go, ‘Oh I guess I’d better sign up for the WST test, oh I can’t enroll in this class.”
According to Dr. Scharberg, the failure to pass the Writing Skills Test in a timely manner has proven to be a substantial issue for SJSU students, both transfers and non-transfers. Passage of the exam is a prerequisite for all upper division General Education classes as well as many upper division major classes.
Because of this, SJSU implemented a policy in Spring 2010 giving students the opportunity to enroll in LLD-100A or English 100A in order to fulfill the WST requirement. Scharberg explains that this increases graduation rates by providing students the chance to take a semester-long course in place of taking the WST the several times needed by some students in order to pass, which could take well over the length of the LLD-100A course depending one how many times a student fails since the test is only given six times throughout the year.
On SJSU’s Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics web page, a link can be found leading to the SJSU Student Success Milestones page. This provides a chart explaining several different student statistics regarding freshman orientation registration, remediation, coursework, GE bottleneck, retention, WST and 100W classes, and graduation according to course year, academic support, and college. The statistics that this tool provides serve as a projector of expected graduation rates for students of all of SJSU’s colleges in accordance to whatever cohort year and academic support program, such as EOP (Education Opportunity Program) or HUM1A (Humanities Honors), that one may choose to view, and is available to the public for anyone interested in delving into this topic of SJSU graduation rates.
Student retention is a phrase that many college students hear thrown around often, but its exact definition can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint. Dr. Scharberg explains that what student retention actually is is consistent enrollment at San Jose State from academic year to academic year, and that there are a myriad of explanations for why a student may be inclined to drop out after freshman year.
“For freshmen, they can leave for a lot of different reasons,” Scharberg says. “Maybe it’s too expensive to go here. Maybe I’m not sure of my major. Maybe I should go to a community college for a while and then go back. There’s lots and lots of reasons.”
Susan Rockwell, Director of Employer Services at SJSU, says that she can understand how having a job while being a student could also impact graduation rates, especially considering that a substantial number of SJSU's student body holds down a job while attending classes as well.
“It could be that students that are having to juggle more activities at one time might find it harder to spend time on their school work,” Rockwell says. “Having said that, I think we historically have a fairly large population of students that do work and go to school. I think we’ve seen numbers that might be approaching 50 percent. I think students are taking on more than one job to make ends meet because of tuition increases and other financial pressures.”
The number of students working jobs connected with the SJSU Career Center alone demonstrates solid evidence attesting to the fact that a significant number of students work and/or intern part time while going to school. According to the SJSU Job Development Report for the fiscal year 2011-2012, the total number of students who utilized the Career Center services and obtained jobs for that fiscal year was between 9,898 and 10,941.
Graduation rates are impacted by a myriad of factors—being a student while simultaneously working a part-time job or internship, having a particularly time-demanding major requiring a higher than average number of units, failure to fully understand major perquisites and co-requisites, etc. In the end, each student has their own reasons for the pace at which they graduate, and it is impossible to generalize the reasons for what causes students to graduate slower or faster than others.
"I think when you're dealing with graduation rates, there are so many factors that go into things," Tuberty says. "If there was one single piece, we could focus on that and then it wouldn't be an issue. There are a portion of engineering students that would love to study abroad. That potentially is going to take a longer pace. Any time you tack something else on, you're giving something else up, or you're tacking it on and it's going to take you longer."