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CSUF’s Student Success Initiative Exceeds Goals

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Almost three years ago, students at Cal State Fullerton were asked to support a “Student Success Initiative.”

Through the introduction of a student success fee, the University promised to make substantive improvements to strengthen academic advising, improve course availability, expand library hours (and technology), increase support for learning communities (such as internships, Career Center, etc.), expand and modernize classrooms and student spaces (such as the Titan Student Union), and upgrade technology by expanding Wi-Fi coverage and providing a 24/7 Information Technology help desk for students.

Berenecea Johnson Eanes, vice president for student affairs, explains how SSI goals are being met since the initiative’s passage.

So three years later, have those goals been met?

“Not only are the goals being met, but the goals are being exceeded. When we first created the Student Success Initiative, all of the elements were specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based. We collaborated with student leadership, looked into the future and developed a targeted approach that would further enhance the Titan experience.

“For instance, we promised to expand library hours because students asked that the hours be extended, at the very least, to match the hours at the TSU. Thanks to the SSI, we have been able to over-deliver on the number of library hours offered. Not only are we able to operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week during the week of final exams, as well as the week before, but we are able to offer extended hours throughout the semester. Now the library is actually open seven days per week, which it wasn’t before SSI. There are certainly direct benefits there.

“In so many other areas, the same thing has happened. We’ve been able to over-deliver what we promised with our cultural centers to further embrace a culture of diversity on campus. We’ve been able to over-deliver within the Veterans Student Services area, providing additional staff and programming that has gone above and beyond what was originally promised in the SSI process.”

How were the different areas (athletics, academic advising, library, etc.) selected to fund?

“Each of these specific areas were chosen by the students who were originally part of the leadership team that proposed the original Student Success Initiative plan – primarily ASI leadership the year that SSI originated.

They specifically targeted those areas where they wanted to make investments to improve the Titan experience. There was a lengthy, interactive and collaborative consultation process with the campus community as to what to include or exclude. Some ideas didn’t get included, and some items were budgeted at different amounts — higher or lower. Essentially, through that collaborative process, promises and deliverables were established on what exactly would be funded with SSI.”

How/who determines how funding is divided up among multiple areas?

“In the working documents for establishing the fee, you must articulate exactly how the fee will be used. As a result, as it relates to SSI, each segment promised different, specific things.

For instance, in the category of ‘Embrace Diversity and Veterans,’ the students were promised exactly what areas would be funded, as well as how those funds would be used. Another example is ‘Accessing Upgraded Technology.’ Students were promised a 24 hours per day, seven days per week IT help desk, which has been delivered. Students were also promised a drastic improvement in their Wi-Fi experience, which also has been delivered.”

What has been the reaction to the improvements that have been made so far?

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the success of this is reflected in our increasing graduation rates and diminishing achievement gaps. Students are now able to meet with an academic adviser, career specialist or graduation specialist, who works directly in their college.

This has resulted in student success across the institution. In fact, we have completely eliminated certain achievement gaps. Those evolutions are directly attributable to the work that we’ve been doing in the ‘Support Academic Progress’ element of SSI.”

Are there any particular programs/centers that you are especially proud of?

“Look at the elements of Titan pride on campus. Visit the new Student Success Centers and see all of the great advancements. See the enhanced cultural centers, or the new improvements we’ve made to the Athletics facilities. Go and look at the brand new LED state-of-the-art lights that illuminate all of the north recreational fields. You’ll see students playing there day and night.”

It looks like you work with many different divisions, including Academic Affairs and Information Technology. How do you interact with all these different departments?

“SSI has been a very collaborative effort between the students, faculty and staff of the entire campus from the very beginning. Every division on the campus has a vested interest in SSI. We all are partners in making this a success.

How do we do that? We have quarterly meetings. Every sectional lead has to be accountable and report exactly what they’ve been doing. All of that information is communicated on, where every student can see where their money is going and what is being accomplished by SSI.”

How are you gauging the success of these programs?

“We’re gauging it through what we are able to deliver to our students. Our graduation rates. Diminishing our achievement gaps. We’re gauging it in the feedback we get from students about the improved experience they are having on campus as a direct result of SSI.”

Have there been any challenges or unforeseen opportunities?

“There have definitely been challenges. This was an enormous undertaking so we had to completely re-engineer major elements. For instance, we had to change how we handle career services, moving from a centralized model to a decentralized model. We had to modernize and improve classrooms, which was one of the very first areas we invested in. We took every chalkboard out of every classroom on campus and replaced them with white boards and state-of-the-art technology.

Thanks to SSI, every classroom is on a five-year rotation where each will be refreshed or updated every five years. That’s huge. Before this, we had classrooms that hadn’t been touched in 30 or 40 years. Now, those classrooms are going to be refreshed on a regular basis, which will drastically improve the experience of our students every day.”

What plans are being made going forward? Are there some new programs/improvements you are considering?

“This is year three of SSI so as of this year, everything will be fully built out. Going forward, the priority will be to maintain these enhancements. It’s going to be about ensuring that we are continuing to meet the expectations of what was promised. There are not any big changes that can be made without further consultation with students and without further votes by our student body. We’ve delivered what we promised to deliver and will continue to deliver where there are additional opportunities to make improvements. We’ll work very closely with our students to do that.”

Looking back, are there any things you would have done differently?

“There is always more that can be done, but I don’t think there is anything we would have done differently. I think that we really have met what we set out to do with changing the Titan experience. There are always things that we can do to improve. SSI made a huge drastic change in so many areas for our student experience.”