The Long Beach-based California State University system Friday reported a record-high number of degrees awarded at its 23 campuses for 2020-21, in spite of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CSU, 132,167 degrees were conferred, representing an increase of about 25,000 since the university system began a targeted effort in 2015 to increase graduation rates.

But CSU officials noted that the system is still facing shortfalls in its effort to close equity gaps, meaning graduation rates continue to lag among “historically underserved” groups. CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said the university will be implementing a system-wide effort to close those gaps.

“This has always been a top priority, and indeed we have a moral imperative to do better for our students,” Castro said in a statement. “This plan, developed in conjunction with an advisory committee of expert stakeholders from across the system, pinpoints actions that all campuses must tackle immediately.”

In addition to asking officials at each CSU campus to develop customized plans for closing gaps, the system-wide plan includes:

— a re-enrollment campaign aimed at bringing underserved students back to CSU campuses this spring;

— initiating “digital degree planners” to ensure students have a clear understanding of their “pathway to graduation”; and

— a targeted focus to improve student achievement in courses that have the highest numbers of failing grades and largest enrollment of underserved students.

According to the CSU, the overall four-year graduation rate increased to 33%, up from 19%, since the graduation initiative began in 2015. The six-year graduation rate grew from 57% to 63%.

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