Four Pillars Archive

View SJSU's Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks (January Update PDF).  


As the oldest public institution in California, San José State University has a long and proud history as a supplier of excellent higher education, a contributor to the skilled workforce in the Bay Area and an incubator for innovations that have significant local and global impact. Through the decades, our priority has remained the same -- to offer an exceptional and affordable education to all of our students, so they find success in their careers and become engaged citizens of California and the world.

When our students receive a quality education and complete their degrees on time (e.g. in four years for college-ready freshmen) they:

  • pay less in tuition and accrue less student loan debt;
  • begin full-time employment sooner, thus gaining more work 
    experience and a higher potential lifetime salary;
  • enter the workforce with valuable skills that are sought by Silicon Valley companies, including high-tech and business firms; government and public service; arts, literature and entertainment; health professions; education and many other fields and industries; and

provide the ability for new students to access educational 
opportunities at SJSU.

Once admitted, our students join a network of Spartans committed to supporting academic, professional and personal success. Together, we should provide our students with a clear and timely pathway to an outstanding degree. However, we often fail to live up to this promise: for the student who starts the fall semester in need of college readiness support in English and math; for the student who needs advice when advisors are booked solid for weeks; for the student who feels disconnected from the campus and drifts away; and for the student whose progress is blocked because a bottleneck course is unavailable semester after semester. We can and must do better for our students, especially those who need additional support on their road to success.

We have a significant percentage of students who work to finance their education, including 27 percent of freshmen and 64 percent of seniors, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement. A small portion of undergraduate students opt to enroll part time, with 14 percent of 2015-16 baccalaureate degree recipients taking fewer than 12 units most semesters. Many more students desire to take a full course load each semester to make timely progress toward graduation.
While we have made great improvements in six-year graduation rates, not all students share the benefits of that progress. SJSU reported a six-year graduation rate of 62 percent in 2016, up five percentage points from the previous year. This rate is above the national average for public universities of 58 percent, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for 2015, but we know we must continue to improve. The university’s four-year graduation rates remain stubbornly low at 14 percent.

Graduation rates for underrepresented minority (URM – Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American) students are increasing at a slower rate than non-URM students, a national trend. While we are narrowing the gap for six-year graduation rates of URM students and their peers, it remained at 11 percent in 2016. Read the Graduation Rate FAQ (2015) online for more details. Between 2003-2013, 77 percent of universities in the United States increased URM graduation rates, but only 46 percent of those universities were successful in decreasing the gap between URM and non-URM students, according to a report by the Education Trust that reviewed more than 255 institutions. At SJSU, we want to eliminate the URM gap entirely.

To lift our rates even higher for all students the campus needs a unified plan to guide our efforts so that we are all moving in the same direction. We need to come together to find the greatest opportunities for improvement, the most important areas for coordination and the most strategic places for investment.

A Campus Priority

SJSU serves more than 33,000 students, including 3,500 incoming freshmen, 3,600 new transfer students and 2,000 new graduate students a year. The university has a large number of first-generation students, with 27 percent of students identified as the first in their families to attend college, according to Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics’ Student Profiles (2010-2014). The university also serves a diverse population, with more than 37 percent of students identifying as an underrepresented minority. While incoming first-year students have completed the requirements to be accepted at a CSU, 36 percent of students who enrolled at SJSU in fall 2015 required college readiness support in math, English or both. SJSU is committed to improving access to high-quality degrees for all students, regardless of their background.

SJSU’s Academic Affairs Leadership Team (AALT) identified student success as a priority for its 2014-16 working plan. The Educational Excellence and Student Experience priority group that included student, faculty, staff and administrator representatives worked on initiatives to support student success. Through the priority group, student success centers were established or expanded in each of the colleges; initial steps were taken to establish a data warehouse that will support predictive analytics; MyScheduler was launched, a tool that supports students in course selection; writing support services were expanded; and GE pathways were developed around the topics of creativity, sustainability and globalization.

In summer 2015, CSU Chancellor’s Office representatives met with the AALT and representatives from the Student Affairs Division for a one-day retreat focused on ways to improve student success for mid-career students (those in their third to fifth year at SJSU) and URM students. In a follow-up retreat that summer, the AALT met again to discuss roadblocks to student success and potential solutions.

Based on the groundwork completed in the priority groups and summer retreats, Provost Feinstein and Vice President for Student Affairs Blaylock held focus groups with students, faculty, staff and advisors throughout the fall 2015 semester to gather more input on student success needs. Deputy Provost Carl Kemnitz conducted a student success program inventory, categorizing more than 100 programs and support systems. Kemnitz met with the Council of Deans, the Council of AVPs, AALT, the President’s Cabinet, the Academic Senate Executive Committee and the University Council of Chairs and Directors to discuss the existing programs, strengths, aspirations and remaining gaps.

Associate Vice President for Academic Planning and Budgets Marna Genes completed an analysis of SJSU students’ average unit load as compared to other institutions and discovered SJSU undergraduates took an average of 12.4 units a semester compared to a full-time unit load of 15. The analysis revealed the impact of course bottlenecks on student progress. As a result, the Joint Enrollment Planning Group recommended a “no limits” enrollment plan for 2016-17 to increase average unit load by removing college enrollment ceilings and clearing bottlenecks. The plan was accepted by the president and supported by a university budget plan that provided $2.8 million for clearing bottlenecks, with an anticipated 500 additional course sections. The overall plan was presented to the Academic Senate in fall 2015.

In addition to these outreach efforts, campus leaders reviewed the Campus Climate Survey, conducted in spring 2015, the “Why Students Leave” report, based on research conducted by four faculty members in fall 2015, and the National Survey of Student Engagement, conducted in 2014, to gain more information about student success needs.

In summer 2016, AALT and the Student Affairs Leadership Team met for a joint retreat to discuss ways to further enhance the Four Pillars Plan. A summary of the discussion is available online, and the January 2017 update is based on the priorities developed from the retreat.

CSU Graduation Initiative

As the nation faces an imperative to produce an educated workforce accompanied by more than a trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt that is often debilitating for those who do not complete college, SJSU is not alone in the quest to improve graduation rates. The CSU launched a system-wide Graduation Initiative in 2009 to improve six-year graduation rates and reduce the gap between URM and non-URM student graduation rates. As the 2015 initiative wrapped up, the Chancellor’s Office launched CSU Graduation Initiative 2025 with a student success dashboard to track the progress of each campus as they increase six-year and four-year graduation rates, and eliminate the attainment gap between URM and non-URM students.

By 2025, SJSU expects to meet the ambitious targets of a six-year graduation rate of 71 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 35 percent. We are committed to eliminating the achievement gap between URM and non-URM students while also erasing the gap between Pell grant-eligible students and their peers. In addition, we aim to raise the two-year transfer graduation rate to 36 percent and the four-year transfer rate to 80 percent. (Note: The CSU Chancellor’s Office revised the initial targets for its Graduation Initiative 2025 released in 2015; the Four Pillars plan has been updated to reference the revised 2016 targets.)


Based on the information gathered through 2016, Feinstein and Blaylock identified four recommended pillars of a unified student success plan: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks. The plan was shared with campus stakeholders throughout spring 2016 and refined with input before being finalized for implementation in fall 2016. While some proposed initiatives in our College Readiness pillar are primarily focused on improving graduation rates for first-time freshmen, we believe many of the resources in the other three pillars will benefit transfer, mid-career, international, graduate and certificate students through enhanced support services and expanded opportunities for meaningful engagement.

The impact of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan will be monitored by our overall goals:

  • Increase graduation rates steadily to meet our 2025 targets of:
    • Freshmen 4-Year Graduation: 35 percent
    • Freshmen 6-Year Graduation: 71 percent
    • Transfer 2-Year Graduation: 36 percent
    • Transfer 4-Year Graduation: 80 percent
    • Increase retention rates
  • Remove all differences in retention, graduation rates and GPA for URM and Pell grant-eligible students

We have set metrics specific to each pillar (described below) to ensure we are on track to meet our overall goals. Along with these goals and metrics, we have created a working group that includes AVP for Campus Life Sonja Daniels, AVP for Academic Budgets and Planning Marna Genes, Interim AVP for the Office of Student and Faculty Success Stacy Gleixner, AVP for Transition and Retention Debra Griffith and Deputy Provost Carl Kemnitz to monitor the progress in each pillar and provide regular updates to the campus community.

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