Opening Student Degree Pathways

Elizabeth Chapin



Student Degrees

To increase student access and success, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White has committed to decrease the number of obstacles students face on the path to a degree.

Ongoing efforts to clear student degree pathways include decreasing the number of courses labeled as “bottlenecks” and ensuring that most undergraduate programs do not exceed 120 semester units.

Reducing Bottleneck Courses

Courses with a high demand and/or high failure-rate can be referred to as “bottleneck” courses because they slow student progress toward graduation. After surveying students and faculty throughout the CSU, the Chancellor’s Office identified close to 1,300 bottleneck courses across the system. The CSU’s Enrollment Bottleneck Solution Initiative was designed to address the problem by decreasing the number of bottleneck classes, ultimately accelerating students’ progress to degree.

There are many reasons why bottlenecks impede student success—including increased enrollment demand, limited facilities and course offerings, and a lack of awareness about the wider range of course and program options available.

The CSU has applied $10 million in special funding to address these causes with technology-rich solutions including:

  • Proven Course Redesign: Offering a year-long program for CSU faculty who have successfully redesigned their courses to significantly improve student success.
  • Promising Practices for Course Redesign: 77 awards were made to campuses to support faculty redesign of bottleneck courses to improve access.
  • CourseMatch: CSU students now have access to online courses delivered by campuses other than their own.
  • Virtual Labs: The university has built a collection of virtual STEM labs for faculty to adopt for hybrid lab courses.
  • eAdvising: All 23 campuses are utilizing technology to streamline advising, registration, and academic planning for undergraduate students.

With these measures in place, the CSU expects all significant bottlenecks to be eliminated by fall 2017.

Advancing the 120 Unit Degree

In January 2013, the CSU Board of Trustees added a required maximum of 120 semester units for most bachelor’s degrees. The requirement reduces costs for students and helps them graduate in a timelier manner. It also boosts course access for incoming freshmen and community college transfer students.

The new requirements do not apply to certain programs including architecture, fine arts, and music, and do not limit the number of units students can take or require them to enroll in on a full time basis.

In just one year since the requirement was implemented, CSU faculty have already helped to make an overall improvement of four percent—the proportion of 120 unit bachelor’s degrees in the CSU raised from 82 to 86 percent.

The improvement means that more CSU students will save money on tuition, course fees, textbooks and other expenses while they navigate a more efficient path to a degree.

The 120 unit degree also aligns with the Associate Degree for Transfer between the California Community Colleges and the CSU. Students on the transfer degree path take 60 units at a California Community College and 60 units at a CSU, earning an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in just 120 units. The transfer degree provides a clear, unambiguous, efficient pathway for community college students.

In addition, prospective students now have the ability to search for degrees that require only 120 units on the CSU Degrees Database, an online tool used to explore the baccalaureate and graduate degree programs and concentrations currently offered at CSU campuses.