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A Black CSU staff member helps a Black student with his graduation regalia

California State University published a report detailing measures the system will take to promote student success among Black students, working toward its Graduation Initiative 2025 goals of improving completion outcomes.

California State University

California State University will invest $10 million over three years to advance Black student success across the system.

A systemwide work group surveyed stakeholders from every university in the 23-campus system to identify strategies Cal State can take to improve retention and graduation among Black learners.

The report, published June 19, identifies 13 broad recommendations for system stakeholders to invest in resources and policies to support Black students, including creating belonging spaces and antiharassment policies, implementing data-based decision-making, standardizing recruitment of Black personnel, and kick-starting early outreach to young Black learners.

The recommendations will not only guide CSU in its strategic planning and inclusion but are an invitation to higher education to put greater intentionality on aiding underserved and underrepresented students, says Thomas Parham, CSU Dominguez Hills president and co-chair of the work group.

The background: In 2015, CSU established a 10-year plan to increase four- and six-year graduation rates among first-time students to 40 percent and 70 percent, respectively, by 2025. Graduation Initiative 2025 has six implementation measures, including:

  1. Creating academic preparation
  2. Data-informed decision-making
  3. Enhancing enrollment management
  4. Investing financial support
  5. Removing administrative barriers
  6. Supporting student engagement and well-being

Of Black students who enrolled in fall 2016 as first-year students, 48 percent earned their degree within six years. Cal State’s six-year graduation rate for all students in 2022 was 62 percent.

“The data reveals that despite our best efforts, the people who are suffering the most in this case, and the data is pretty clear about it, are students of African descent,” Parham says.

Four-year graduation rates among Black men and women in the CSU system have grown since 2011 but remain below national averages. Across the country, completion rates among Black scholars are also lower than those of other ethnic or racial groups, due to costs, lack of extracurricular support and implicit and overt forms of racism.

CSU hosted its inaugural Juneteenth symposium in July 2022. During the symposium, CSU chancellor Jolene Koester committed to researching how the system promoted and detracted from Black student success.

The work group: The work group launched in October 2022 and consisted of representatives from a range of universities throughout the system with expertise in Black students’ success.

The group consisted of 12 members and two co-chairs, Parham and Fresno State president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, and was divided into four subgroups: recruitment; student retention, persistence and academic success; campus culture, community and belonging; and the role of faculty and staff.

To collect data, group members hosted listening sessions in February for students, faculty members and staff separately, speaking with a total of 250 participants from all universities in the system.

“It’s difficult to create recommendations without consultation of the voices of the people they were designed to serve,” Parham explains.

The recommendations: After completing its research, the work group established 13 recommendations, requiring institutional shifts in priorities and resources to support Black students in their success with direct initiatives, faculty and staff assistance and to foster a more inclusive campus climate.

“Student success and faculty and staff success are inexplicably linked,” Parham says. “You can’t have student success without having success in the faculty domain and the staff domain, because all of them are important to achieve the outcomes that we want.”

In its work, the work group hoped to both leverage the system as a whole to create change but also allow for freedom and flexibility at the campus level, based on the context of each university, Parham says.

The recommendations will serve as directives for university leaders, but each campus will make its own progress in applying them to their university starting later this summer and fall. The chancellor’s office will distribute the $10 million in funding over three years through an implementation committee.

“You can’t stand up a set of recommendations unless you’re committing resources, and $10 million is a nominal number to start off with,” Parham says.

To support students directly, universities should:

  • Create and implement an early-outreach plan. The outreach plan should promote academic preparation and degree pathways with K-12 schools and local community groups. To that end, CSU will expand its present programming for students to engage with CSU faculty, like summer research.
  • Develop a comprehensive enrollment plan. CSU lags behind in enrolling Black students compared to its prospective student pool, and therefore each university should set proportional goals for Black student enrollment based on its service region and the state. The system should also invest in a more accessible admissions experience for all prospective students, including Black students.
  • Develop a comprehensive retention and persistence strategy. Colleges should disaggregate data to understand how Black students retain and persist compared to their peers with similar retention gaps. The plans must have three components: a case management support model (advising that extends beyond academics); a campaign to re-enroll students who stop out; and a list of initiatives, services and practices that benefit Black persistence and retention.
  • Create affirming spaces. To promote Black student belonging, CSU will invest in Black-designed and inspired campus spaces, living and learning residences and Black Resource Centers on every campus. The system will also invest in culturally competent mental health professionals and police who value community policing.

To support faculty and staff as they facilitate Black student success, institutions should:

  • Implement inclusive and culturally relevant curriculum. Instructional faculty will be supported to develop inclusive, culturally relevant curriculum, evidence-based pedagogical methods and classroom management practices for Black students’ success. The curriculum design will also aim to reduce racial microaggression and racial battle fatigue in the classroom. Additionally, CSU will require faculty development programs and faculty orientation sessions to improve pedagogy and inclusivity and address DFW rates.
  • Standardize and increase Black recruitment and support. CSU will develop systemwide search criteria and hiring processes for new faculty, including requirements for teaching, service and research with diverse student groups and a provost and chief diversity officer review of candidates.
  • Invest in Black faculty and staff support. Each university will establish an employee resource/affinity group to provide financial resources and organizational recognition for Black faculty and staff. Leaders should also allocate resources toward faculty and staff development, including scholarship and professional interests related to participation in affinity groups and cultural organizations.
  • Incorporate Black students’ success into evaluations. Universities will embed student success and equity measures into recruitment, tenure and promotion processes for faculty and evaluations for administrators and staff.

The CSU system will also modify its infrastructure for Black student success through these actions:

  • Create an enrollment marketing campaign. CSU’s marketing enrollment campaign should focus on prospective Black students and families to attract applicants.
  • Develop a process for data-driven practices. CSU will create infrastructure for university leaders, like presidents, to use data practices like disaggregating data and campus climate data to improve academic outcomes.
  • Address unprofessional conduct. The system will articulate consistent policies for student, staff and faculty to ensure conduct does not diminish Black student success, like macro- and microaggressions. The policies will also articulate interventions and implement annual discrimination, harassment and retaliation training.
  • Establish a central office for Black excellence. CSU should launch a Statewide Central Office for the Advancement of Black Excellence to organize universities, promote growth and distribute funding.
  • Create accountability. All CSU faculty, staff and administrators should participate in an in-person professional development training on addressing anti-Blackness in higher education. Additionally, departments should be audited for Black representation in faculty and staff, and the system should publish an annual report on its progress or lack thereof in the above areas.

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