Cal Poly students have been graduating at higher rates than their peers within the California State University system for at least the past two decades, institutional research data shows.
The university recorded the highest four-year, five-year and six-year graduation rates among first-time freshmen completing their degree in spring 2017, as well as the highest four-year and five-year graduation rates among Hispanic students within the CSU.
Graduation rates "measure the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who complete their program at the same institution within a specified period of time," according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Cal Poly will hold ceremonies June 16 and 17 for its spring 2018 graduating class, but rates for this year's class aren't yet available.
Additionally, Cal Poly's one-year retention rates — defined by the CSU as the percentage of first-time freshmen in a given fall term who returned to the institution in a subsequent fall term — rank among the highest in the system. At least 90 percent of the freshman class has returned in 12 of the past 14 years, according to Cal Poly persistence rate trends.
Bruno Giberti, Cal Poly's associate vice provost for academic programs and planning, said students deserve much of the credit for the consistently high graduation rates.
Another contributing factor, Giberti said, is the university's policy requiring students to declare a major at the time of application.
"They're starting their degree program the first quarter that they're here and making immediate progress," Giberti said.
During the 2016-17 school year, a record 99,000 undergraduate students earned their degree from a CSU institution — nearly 7,000 more students than the previous year.
The median time to degree for first-year freshmen is 4.7 years, which the CSU says is consistent with the national average for comprehensive universities.
In January 2016, the CSU launched its Graduation Initiative 2025 program, which aimed to "increase graduation rates while eliminating achievement and equity gaps" by ensuring classes are available when students need them, while also hiring additional faculty.
Cal Poly was given annual graduation rate targets established by the CSU, Giberti said, and the university has already exceeded those goals.
Cal Poly's four-year goal for the freshman cohort entering in fall 2013 and graduating in June 2017 was 49.7 percent. The school surpassed it with a graduation rate of 50.4 percent.
Cal Poly's six-year goal for the freshman cohort entering in fall 2011 and graduating in June 2017 was 81 percent. The university exceeded that mark with an all-time high graduation rate of 82.1 percent.
By comparison, the systemwide six-year graduation rate among UC schools has been higher than 83 percent every year since 2004.
Jeff Gold, the assistant vice chancellor for student success strategic initiatives with the CSU, said Cal Poly is unique within the system in its demographics, academic prowess of admitted students and geographic location.
Gold said Cal Poly's sustained success is part of the larger initiative.
"As a system, we are known for the people that we let in the door, and we're really proud of that. Our students reflect the state in incredibly close numbers," Gold said. "But we have work to do, and we want to get better, and we want to be leaders.
"We aim to be the leading four-year comprehensive institution in terms of graduation rates, and in terms of closing and eliminating equity gaps so that all students have the opportunity to graduate in equal numbers."
Not only has Cal Poly led the CSU in six-year graduation rates every year since at least 1997, it has done so in impressive fashion.
The school's six-year graduation rate has been more than 20 percent higher than the systemwide average for at least 15 years, the data shows.
When asked which graduation rate is considered most significant, Giberti said it depends on who you ask.
"For parents, a four-year graduation rate is going to be awfully important," Giberti said. "At the same time, there are sometimes good reasons why a student takes longer to graduate. If a student takes a quarter off to do an internship so that they're better prepared when they graduate, we don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."
Giberti added that it's important to consider many of the urban campuses within the CSU system have a high number of part-time students.
The four-year and six-year graduation rates tend to advantage a traditional residential campus like Cal Poly, where the vast majority of students are going to school full time, he said.
"We hope part of our Learn By Doing tradition is helping to motivate students to succeed," Giberti said.