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Inside CSULB
Vol 57 No. 11 : June 2, 2005
Vol 57 No. 11 | June 1, 2005
'Graduation Green Light' Helps Former Students Earn Degrees

Some 6,000 CSULB students looked forward to donning their caps and gowns for commencement ceremonies last month. But for a variety of reasons, however, each year finds some students who apply to graduate don't quite complete their degrees.

Thus, the Graduation Green Light Project was born.

"It was originally set up as a pilot program designed to increase the undergraduate graduation rate essentially by reaching out to seniors who had filed for graduation, but for whatever reason, didn't," said Susan Black, assistant director of CSULB's Academic Advising Center.

In 2003, she and center director Marilee Samuelson decided to see how they could help. They contacted Enrollment Services, and with a start-up grant from the CSULB Alumni Association to help pay for student assistants, they compiled a list of students who had failed to graduate a year after filing. Although commencement is once a year, graduation can occur at the end of fall, spring or summer terms.

Since its inception, the project has contacted 472 students "and 268 are actively requesting some form of assistance," Samuelson said. "We have another 73 in the pipeline to finish this year." Although the program initially targeted recent students, it is expanding to assist more students from past years.

Students receive a letter outlining what they're missing as well as what they can do to meet those requirements. Some already know that they still need to finish a class or two or pass an examination, while others are surprised to learn they're deficient in some requirement. "The very first person said, ‘What do you mean, I wasn't graduated?'" Black recalled. "They may have moved, for example, and they may have not gotten their audit, or 'grad check' that indicates what they need to do." Sometimes it's as simple as filing one missing document.

A number of students don't meet with an academic advisor "so they weren't aware of some of the lesser known requirements like the number of required upper division units. They said 'I followed the list of courses, so now I'm done.' And some folks have a break in enrollment and what they find out is that additional requirements have been added," Black said.

Transferring from another college also can pose problems from incomplete transcripts to issues with class credit. The latter became a problem for Shari Katz, nursing director for the Maternal/Child Health Department at Coastal Communities Hospital in Santa Ana.

At CSULB, "I had taken a class (the university) considered to be a repeat of a class I had taken at my junior college, so after I had already walked for the ceremony and after I thought I was done, I got a letter saying that I hadn't graduated and that I still needed to make up these four units," she recalled. "This was very difficult at best because I had already accepted a supervisory position at that time managing the nursing unit and it's a very demanding, 24/7 on-call job, so there really wasn't much time to dedicate to getting those four units."

As several years passed, Katz grew increasingly concerned about completing her degree, which she needed to enter a master's program to achieve her goal of becoming a chief nursing officer. By that time, Graduation Green Light had started, so she contacted Susan Black.

"Right away she was a huge help telling me what I needed to do," Katz said. "She really facilitated making the connection for me of who I needed to talk to and whose approval I needed to get those four units approved to be credited toward my degree. They were, in fact, credited and my degree was given to me at that point, four years later. Susan gave me the leg up that I needed."

Personal circumstances also can come into play. Ginny Dixon was enrolled in the journalism program while working as a photographer at the Los Angeles Times. Now a successful freelance photographer in Florida, "I had been trying to finish my degree for about six years after having to drop out with two classes to go because I had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer," Dixon said. "I wasn't sure what the exact requirements were because so much time had passed, but I knew it was in that ballpark, somewhere around two classes.

"The program, and Susan Black to be specific, helped me get my transcripts in order, find out exactly what I needed to graduate and how to get enrolled into the BlackBoard [online] classes," she continued. "After trying for a few years to get it all together, she made it all happen very effortlessly and I was able to complete my degree from Florida where I now live."

It can take flexibility and creativity on CSULB's part to help students, particularly if they have moved out of the area. "You don't have to be enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in the semester in which you graduate," Samuelson explained, adding that they look for the best solution to meet both the student's and university's needs.

Academic Advising works with the student's major department to identify acceptable classes, even those offered by other colleges.

"We compiled lists of colleges and universities all over the United States that have computer-based courses for students who are everywhere," Samuelson said. "Students might be missing one class so they might be able to get it substituted. The major departments have been very cooperative."

"When they finish, they're so thrilled," Black remarked. "These are folks, many of whom are already holding very responsible professional positions, who are so excited about being done. It really converts them into being happy and successful CSULB alumni."

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