Graduation Rates on the Rise: What Other Institutions Can Learn From CSU

CSU Graduation Initiative 2025


As colleges and universities plan on ways to support student needs and success for the future, the time is right to consider fresh approaches – in the key areas that can deliver meaningful outcomes. A major initiative underway in the Golden State can offer valuable insights for institutions across the nation.

Graduation Initiative 2025

The California State University (CSU) is the largest public university system in the U.S., serving 482,000 students across 23 campuses each year. CSU also notes that it is one of the most affordable and diverse university systems in the country – and it strives to be inclusive of students from all social, economic and educational backgrounds.

For more than a decade, CSU has been pursuing ambitious measures focused on supporting student success and improving outcomes – and has been getting results. In 2015, the system launched its latest endeavor, Graduation Initiative 2025, with a three-fold set of goals: increasing graduation rates, eliminating equity gaps in degree completion and meeting California’s workforce needs.

The percentage of first-time students graduating within four years increased from 19% to 28%, and within six years from 57% to 62%

Several years into Graduation Initiative 2025, key metrics already are increasing: the percentage of first-time students graduating within four years increased from 19% to 28%, and within six years from 57% to 62%. CSU reports that it’s on track to meet its overall goals by 2025. So, how is CSU driving these results? 

CSU’s six operational priorities 

As a system, CSU has emphasized thinking and acting differently, identifying six operational priorities to support Graduation Initiative 2025 efforts on all its campuses:

  • Academic Preparation
  • Data-Informed Decision Making
  • Enrollment Management
  • Administrative Barriers
  • Financial Support
  • Student Engagement & Well-Being


These priorities have been shown – through research and practice – to move the needle on degree completion and other forms of student success. The Graduation Initiative 2025 website includes examples of the programs individual CSU campuses have implemented in support of these priorities, as well as resources for students, faculty, staff, administrators and parents.

Graduation Initiative 2025 represents a robust, comprehensive approach to improving student outcomes and provides a great deal of information that can be mined for use by other colleges and universities. As each institution maps out its own path, partners should be able to step up and make contributions in their areas of expertise – including the college store.

How your college store can – and should – help 

The college store stands at the intersection of several key priorities identified by CSU, creating clear opportunities to support institutional efforts. 

Data-Informed Decision Making is a priority that impacts each of the other five – and lives at the heart of every effective initiative. It’s particularly important in working with students, whose needs and preferences evolve rapidly. Barnes & Noble College Insights™ maintains a proprietary influencer panel of 10K college students and a national email network of more than 6 million for just that reason, in addition to the millions of students we serve daily through our on-campus and online stores. With our finger on the pulse, we deliver unmatched analysis and insights on student thinking, behaviors and expectations. It’s a vital resource in delivering the academic, social and consumer experiences students seek.

Academic Preparation is central to the mission of any college store; having the required course materials is one of the first and most vital steps to ensuring a student is prepared to learn. However, in 2020, more than half of students nationwide did not have their course materials on the first day of class, putting them at a disadvantage from the start. An equitable access program like First Day® Complete can help level the playing field. First Day Complete delivers all course materials – print and digital – to all students by the first day of class, bundling costs with tuition and fees. 

Equitable access programs also help fulfill the Financial Support priority. In addition to boosting affordability – students save an average of 35-50% – First Day Complete ensures those who use financial aid to pay for their course materials no longer have to wait for disbursement or face other delays. First Day Complete is convenient for all students, but for any student navigating the college experience on their own or juggling work and family responsibilities, the program simplifies what can be a confusing and time-consuming process.

The idea of Student Engagement & Well-Being is holistic, reflecting experiences both inside and outside the classroom. It starts with students’ basic needs, such as housing and food security, and expands out to include mental health and other forms of support. The college store can help institutions build and strengthen connections among students. In addition to serving as a trusted academic resource for students, Barnes & Noble College stores act as a vibrant hub on campus, creating a space for students, faculty and members of the community to gather. Our store teams work to build a heightened sense of school spirit and pride, in the brick-and-mortar stores, online and at events. Activities and communications from the college store add another layer of connection and engagement, helping institutions reach and serve more of their student population. 

As more colleges and universities pursue initiatives like GI 2025 at the institutional, system or state level, collaboration will be vital. Contact us to learn more about how partnering with Barnes & Noble College can support greater affordability, access and achievement for your students.

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