CSU launches $11M ‘student success’ effort to boost 70% graduation rate


Building on progress that Colorado State University campuses have made over the last decade, the Board of Governors of the CSU System recently voted to invest $11 million to push forward efforts designed to close equity gaps and improve overall rates of student success.

Equity gaps are disparities in educational outcomes across socioeconomic status, race, gender, and other demographic traits. As an example, the 2020 Colorado Talent Pipeline Report found that 62.6% of Colorado’s top jobs require a credential beyond a high-school diploma – and white students are for more likely to graduate high school and complete a college degree or certificate than students of color. Nationally, first-generation students are more than twice as likely to leave college within three years, without a diploma.

“We cannot achieve our overall student success goals without closing equity gaps – those gaps between the number of majority students and underrepresented students who stay in college and graduate,” said the CSU System’s Chief Academic Officer Rick Miranda.

The CSU System found statistically significant performance gaps on its campuses between majority students and those who are first-generation, rural, non-resident, underrepresented/minoritized, financially stressed, or academically underprepared – as well some gaps based on gender, which can include gaps in majors that may be traditionally dominated by one gender or another.

Each of the three CSU campuses – Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado State University Pueblo, and Colorado State University Global – faces its own unique challenges when it comes to student success, so the Board’s additional funding is targeted to specific needs of each campus. But across the System, the initiative will focus its funding on six broad categories: data; infusing a culture of success at the college/department levels; changes to the curriculum; enhancements to the curriculum; co-curricular investments; and targeted financial aid.

In total, the Board committed $11.2 million over three years with $9 million for activities at CSU Fort Collins and $2.209 million for CSU Pueblo. The stretch goal is to eliminate equity gaps for all demographics by 2027 and raise student success metrics to the top quartile of peers in the same time period.

CSU Fort Collins

Colorado State’s flagship campus in Fort Collins has focused intensively on improving overall student success rates for nearly 14 years, since 2008. As part of those efforts, the university restructured its advising activities and invested heavily in financial aid. Its landmark Colorado Tuition Assistance Grant (CTAG) provides need-based aid to low- and middle-income students based on the student and family’s income. More than 4,700 CSU Fort Collins students earn the grant every year. In all, the program has disbursed around $180 million to about 21,000 Colorado students. Overall, 60% of CSU students receive some kind of grant and scholarship aid from CSU, federal, state, and local sources (not including federal student loans).

The $9 million in new resources for the campus over the next three years will support increased financial aid for rural and lower-income students; further development of data tools to analyze and inform student success decision making; investments in academic and co-curricular improvements to support marginalized populations, faculty professional development, academic enrichment, and targeted interventions at the college and department level; and more. These efforts all integrate with the campus’s Courageous Strategic Transformation planning process, launched by President Joyce McConnell.

The campus’s student success initiatives saw good progress over five years, as overall campus diversity and graduation rates both rose consistently. In 2020-2021, 24% of graduating students (1,268 out of 5,371 graduates) were minoritized – up from 12% in 2011-12. In 2021, the campus recorded the highest number ever of racially minoritized and first-generation students earning degrees.

The university has continued to make progress, but as enrollment has boomed in recent years, equity gaps that were nearly closed have reopened, and the six-year graduation gap for students who entered in Fall of 2014 is now 4.8 percentage points. The Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President recently formed six student success work groups focused on closing gaps and improving retention rates. The expert teams are evaluating and reimagining processes and systems across the board, including academic advising and early intervention, curricular support and reform, the impact of the pandemic on students, additional financial aid, and other support structures and care models.

CSU Pueblo

In 2019, CSU Pueblo and President Timothy Mottet launched their Vision 2028 plan, which aims over 10 years to transform the campus into the people’s university of the Southwest, a financially sustainable institution where graduates are equipped with the skills and experiences to contribute meaningfully to their families, communities, and work. The plan includes a focus on increased enrollment and expanded opportunities for students, with substantial investments in advising, student services, academic programs, internship and capstone experiences, career services, and more.

As of Fall 2020, the equity gap in graduation rates was 1.66%, while the gap in retention was 3.66%. While CSU Pueblo’s graduation rate for Hispanic students (35.3%) nearly mirrors that of the campus overall, (35.8%), white students continue to graduate at a higher rate – 38.2% for white students in general and 46.1% for white women. (Hispanic women at CSU Pueblo also surpass the overall graduation rate, at 37.6%). The $2.02 million in new resources for the campus over the next three years will support the Vision 2028 plan with expanded student support services and tutoring, increased financial aid, professional development around teaching and learning, enriched and expanded courses and curriculum, and a focus on reducing student costs for textbooks and other learning tools. Currently, 93% of CSU Pueblo students receive some type of financial aid.

A major area of emphasis will be CSU Pueblo’s Discovery Scholars program, which places students into mentored research experiences early in their undergraduate program.

CSU Global

With the leadership of President Pamela Toney, CSU Global plans to internally fund efforts that will reduce equity gaps in retention and graduation by half over the next three years. At the undergraduate, bachelor’s degree level, there is currently a 7.3% gap in graduation rates between majority and minoritized students, and a 4.9% gap in retention rates.

More than half of CSU Global students currently receive financial aid.