Student Success

CSUN Initiatives

Benefits of 30 Units in the First Year

Enrolling in At Least 30 Units in the First Year Results in Improved CSUN Student Outcomes


One evidence-based trend in higher education is to increase the unit load students attempt in the first year. This research project investigated the relationship between increased unit load in the first year and student outcomes.


At CSUN, first-time, full-time freshmen who attempt 30 units in the first year experience higher one-year retention rates, higher average GPA at the end of each year, greater unit accumulation at the end of each year, and higher 4- and 6- year graduation rates than students who attempted fewer than 30 units. The benefits of credit momentum are experienced by all racial and ethnic groups, and are particularly strong for students of color when it comes to one-year retention rates.

The Details

Research conducted at other 2- and 4-year institution indicates that full-time, first-time freshmen who attempt 15 or more units in the first semester are more likely to earn a degree and earn more credits than full-time students who attempt fewer than 15 units in the first semester. The effects of credit momentum are especially strong for students of color. This study replicated and extended the study to learn about the effects of credit momentum on CSUN students.

We explored the outcomes among full-time students who attempted at least 15 units in the first term and among those who attempted at least 30 units in the first year and found results consistent with the previous research. In addition to looking at differences in 4- and 6-year graduation rates between first-time, full-time freshmen who attempted at least 30 units in their first year (momentum students) and those who attempted fewer than 30 units (non-momentum students), we also explored whether there were differences between the two groups in one-year retention rates, unit accumulation at the end of each year, and average GPA at the end of each year.

At CSUN, first-time, full-time freshmen in the 2007 and 2008 cohorts who attempted at least 30 units in the first year had higher 4- and 6-year graduation rates than full-time students who attempted fewer than 30 units. Additionally, momentum students were more likely to return for a second year, had higher average GPAs at the end of each year, and had accumulated more units at the end of each year than non-momentum students.

The benefits of credit momentum were experienced by students from all racial and ethnic groups, and are particularly strong for students of color when it comes to one-year retention rats. The gaps in one-year retention rates among momentum students of color (students of Black descent and Latinx students) and White momentum students is narrower than the gaps in retention rates between non-Momentum students of color and White students.

Why This Works

The mechanism wasn't explored in this study, but one hypothesis in the literature is that students enrolled in more units are more engaged with the campus and their peers.

Original Study

McManus, Ryan, Kristy Michaud, and Janet Oh. In Progress. "Credit Momentum Improves Student Outcomes at a Large, Urban-Serving Institution."

Fall 2018 Report: Credit Momentum and Student Success (Office of Student Success Innovations, in Collaboration with Institutional Research)

EAB SSC Campus Early Alerts


In Spring and Fall 2018, all Student Athletes, all students in Pre-General Education Math courses, and all students in targeted sections of large lower division GE courses with high DFU rates and racial gaps participated in an EAB SSC Campus progress report pilot.  Instructors teaching those student populations received an EAB progress report campaign request at three points during the semester.  The instructors marked the students in the campaign as at-risk (earning a grade less than C- or No Credit) or not at-risk.  Students marked at-risk were then contacted by an advisor (Student Athletes were contacted by the Matador Advisement Center, EOP students were contacted by EOP advisors, International students were contacted by the Undergraduates International Advisors, and the remaining students were contacted by a member of the Graduation and Retention Specialist team). 

At each of the three progress report points during the semester, all students in the participating section of the lower division GE course also received an email from the instructor that included their current course standing, along with resources that might help the student bring up their grade.


Project lead: Elizabeth Adams


The project was first piloted in Spring 2018.  An expanded pilot is underway this Fall 2018


For the Spring 2018 section of the large, lower division GE course that included EAB progress report and instructor grade update email:

When compared with the same instructor’s previous sections of the course, the average rate of non-passing grades was lower in the experimental section, the average course grade was higher, and gaps between Latinx and White students, and between students of Black descent and White students were smaller for both non-passing rates and average course grades.

For the Student Athletes and students in Pre-General Education Math courses:

Data analysis will be conducted in Fall 2018.


Link to large, lower division GE report (coming soon) 

Graduation and Retention Specialists


A team of ten primarily college-based Student Service Professionals (level 3) was created to help more students graduate in 2 (transfers) and 4 and 6 (freshmen) years, as well as to work with students who have not completed 30 units in their first year. Additionally, the GRSes work in partnership with the SSC/EOP Satellite Directors on first to second semester and first to second year FTF retention.


Project leads: Elizabeth Adams, Shelly Thompson, Associate Deans


Graduation and Retention Specialists joined the campus in Spring 2017


Of 300 first-time freshmen in the 2017 cohort who were unlikely to persist, 200 returned in Fall 2018.  Though the 67% retention rate among this population is lower than the overall retention rate of 80.7%, yield was higher than previous advising center based efforts.


CSUN Mentorship Program


The Office of Student Involvement and Development created a Peer Mentorship program for targeted freshmen during their first three semesters.  First-time freshmen identified by FreshSurvey as in need of additional support were paired with a Peer Mentor. Targeted messaging from mentors reinforces information related to campus resources and services, important deadlines, and opportunities to engage in activities that reinforce a sense of connection to the campus community.


Project Leads: Patrick Bailey and Gabrielle Danis


First-time freshmen in the 2017 and 2018 cohorts were paired with a Peer Mentor in their first year.


The students involved in the CSUN Mentorship Program had an overall 1 -year retention (fall 2017 to fall 2018) of 84% - higher than the campus overall average of 81%.  Traditionally underserved students who participated in the CSUN Mentorship Program had an 86% 1-year retention rate, compared to the 79% retention rate for all traditionally underserved freshmen in the 2017 cohort. 


Faculty Development


Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning

Faculty Development partnered with the Office of Student Success Innovations and the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer to create equity-minded professional development programming for faculty.  In the Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning (ITTL), faculty are presented with different frameworks for creating a racially equitable classroom environment and curriculum, as well as brain-based pedagogical strategies for activating learning and engaging students. Participants learn about unconscious bias, how it can present itself in the teaching and mentoring practice, and strategies for interrupting it.  

The Institute is data-informed in that each participant receives at the beginning of the program a report showing them the racial gaps in course grades and non-passing grades in the courses they teach, and are then given another report a year later so they can see whether their efforts to become more equity-minded practitioners are having an impact on student outcomes.  

College deans with department chairs were provided a list of high DFU courses and/or high gap classes and encouraged to help recruit faculty to engage. Those faculty teaching those courses were invited to participating in this ITTL program.   

Elements of the Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning were incorporated into the eLearning Institutes in 2017 and 2018.

Metacognitive Learn-How-to-Learn Intervention

Saundra McGuire, former Chemistry Professor and Assistant Vice Chancellor Louisiana State University was invited to visit CSUN to present how a meta-cognition intervention, when done early in a course, shows promise in dramatically improving student performance before the end of term. The intervention entails the instructor using an hour of class time after the first major assessment (e.g., first quiz, exam, or major paper) to administer a short engaging lecture that teaches students how to learn effectively in that particular class. The intervention strategically weaves elements of growth-mindset messages (i.e., a belief that students can do well, in that course, with evidence) with meta-cognitive context specific study strategies. The Faculty Development Toolkit website provides details and sample intervention slides which can be used/adapted by instructors.

Transparent Assignment Intervention

Pilot program to investigate the implementation of an equity-minded pedagogical intervention called transparent assignment designs(by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, UNLV). Instructors are encouraged to structure their assignments making it clear what the long-term purpose is, all the detailed tasks involved, and what exact grading criteria will be used to evaluate the performance. With initial funding by California State University Chancellor’s Office via the Director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning of $7,500, and additional funds from GI2025 and Oviatt Libarary College, funding for this workshop has become institutionalized into most Faculty Development programs, including the eLearning Institute.


Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning

Project Leads: Whitney Scott and Kristy Michaud

Metacognitive Learn-How-to-Learn Intervention

Project Lead: Whitney Scott

Transparent Assignment Intervention

Project Lead: Whitney Scott


Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning

Since 2016, four versions of the program have been offered with 39 faculty served. The program, known today as the Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning (ITTL), was first offered in November 2016 to ten faculty members representing the eight colleges. It was offered a second time in January 2017 to eleven faculty representing each of the colleges. Most recently, a semester-long version of the program was offered in Spring 2018 to eighteen faculty members from each college, including the Oviatt Library.

Elements of the Institute were incorporated into the 2017 and 2018 eLearning Institutes, serving 60 faculty.

Metacognitive Learn-How-to-Learn Intervention

Saundra McGuire visited CSUN in Fall 2016. She met privately with the ITTL participants which resulted in actual implementation of her intervention (see outcomes below).

Transparent Assignment Intervention

At the beginning of the Spring 2017 semester Faculty Development hosted the transparent assignment design workshop. Faculty were invited to redesign their assignment(s) in their Spring 2017 course and provide a report on how the redesign impacted students.


Institute for Transformative Teaching and Learning

Course GPA gaps and DFU rate gaps before and after the Institute were compared for those who participated in November 2016 and in January 2017.  Overall, there are positive trends for students of color in both DFU rates and in course grade averages in courses taught by participants.  Likewise, the equity gap between White students and both African American and Latinx students decreased after participation in the Institute, and this difference was statistically significant for the gap between White and Latinx students.

Additionally, at the end of the program, faculty are asked to specifically indicate which intervention they planned to implement and these were among the most common listed: transparent assignments; collecting feedback from students; equity-minded syllabus; meta-cognition intervention; peer-teaching (e.g., Jigsaws); shifting the power dynamics in the overall course; more active learning; and better scaffolding of assignments. Sample faculty reports of personal transformation included:

  • I’ve got awareness of my biases & how I can redesign my class to engage with students who feel left out;
  • I can invite students to collaborate with the co-construction of class assignments;
  • My world view isn’t universal;
  • I need to find ways to be bold in my teaching and close my equity gaps;
  • So happy to hear that I’m not the only one often at a loss for how to best serve our students;
  • Rather than being frustrated with student not doing well in the class, I'm hoping to intervene early and diagnose problems before they get out of control;
  • Each week of the series I'm more convinced that student engagement and learning will be highest when I take the time to connect with students, personalize feedback, develop growth mindset. I feel like a life coach who will also help them learn course material;
  • I am now more optimistic about the ability of more students to do well in my class. I used to think many were hopeless.

Metacognitive Learn-How-to-Learn Intervention

During Saundra McGuire’s CSUN visit, she gave five tailored presentations to all faculty, STEM faculty, advisors, and staff working in the Learning Resource Center and tutors. In total, over 150 people attended her workshops throughout the day. Attendees reported that the workshop met their expectation (mean score of 4.69/5.00) with sample comments such as,

  • “Best workshop I've been to. Ever.
  • This was very helpful with the Grad Initiative 2025.
  • It was great to see concrete examples of student improvements in terms of their scores, which I plan to show my future students to convince them that these strategies work.”

Follow-ups with several faculty who actually implemented this pedagogical intervention in their STEM high fail rate courses reported these key findings:

A STEM faculty teaching a large intro course reports:

“I presented the lecture during class after the first exam (Spring, 2017) and asked students to reflect on their study habitats on two occasions: immediately following the lecture (Feb) and at the end of the course (May). I assessed the immediate effects of presenting a lecture on how to learn by comparing the quiz scores, attendance and exam scores before and after the lecture.

A total of 103 students participated in the lecture and 7 students were absent. I removed any student who withdrew from the class during the course of the semester. Comparison of the quiz and exam scores showed that students who changed study habits following the lectures performed 12 and 1.5 times better on quizzes and exams, respectfully, compared to students who did tried nothing new.”

Another STEM faculty teaching an intro course reports:

“I used the final exam to compared scores in a previous semester with a similar final exam to scores in this semester. In this semester, I broke those scores down by students who were present for the Saundra McGuire intervention and those who were not present. Short story, those students who were present for the intervention had a huge bump in exam scores, relative to last semester and especially relative to those students who were not present for the intervention. I suspect that some of that effect is due to low sample size in the group that missed the intervention. But I also did a short review of intervention later in the semester.

I compared students who were at both to students who missed one or both of the interventions. This had a much higher sample size for the "missed" category. The gap between the two groups is smaller, but still quite large.

Final exam scores in Spring 2016 (no intervention/control group)

71.2% (+/- 1.4)

Final exam scores in Spring 2017 (morning class):

73.3% (+/- 1.9): students who did the intervention

58% (+/- 5.9): students who missed the intervention

Final exam scores in Spring 2017 (afternoon class):

76.4% (+/- 1.6): students who did the intervention

62.2% (+/- 8.8): students who missed the intervention

Comparing students who attended BOTH intervention lecturers

Morning class exam scores:

73.3% (+/-2.0): present at both interventions

63.7% (+/-4.5): missed one or both

Afternoon class exam scores:

78.1% (+/-2.6): present at both interventions

68.3% (+/-4.5): missed one or both

Transparent Assignment Intervention

Since brining this concept to CSUN, at least 72 faculty have learned about this intervention. This also created an opportunity to partner with faculty librarians who serve as peer “coaches” for teaching faculty during their assignment redesign process. Faculty who have learned about this intervention have engaged in their own scholarship of teaching and learning to investigate the impact of this pedagogical approach (see poster presentationand slides).  Ongoing reports from faculty share benefits after redesigning their assignments such as:

  • It’s quicker or easier to explain to students
  • Less student questions and higher quality questions from students
  • Greater student engagement/motivation with assignment
  • The quality of lab reports are much better.
  • In addition to no plagiarism (which is huge!), the students really understood what to do in order to answer the writing prompts.
  • The grades went up. I didn’t expect it to be so effective.
  • This made me re-evaluate why the assignment was given in the first place.
  • It was such a simple revision, but it made a huge difference. I am floored, and plan to revise all my assignments
  • It helped align my assignments with course outcomes
  • I gained a better vision of the different stages/pieces they needed to accomplish. As a result, students seemed to care more about their work.
  • It created sense of community. Reinforced collaboration, sharing of concepts and skills.


Faculty Development Toolkit website

Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Corwin.

Malcom-Piqueux, L. & Bensimon, E. (2017). "Taking Equity-Minded Action to Close Gaps," Peer Review 19(2).

Michaud, K., Bowen, L., Oh, J., & Adams, E. (2018). "Becoming a Student-Ready University,A Vision for Equity: Results from AAC&U's Project "Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success," March 22, 2018.

Michaud, K. Bowen, L., Oh, J., & Adams. A. (2017). "A Data-Informed Approach to Advancing Equity," Peer Review 19(2).

Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2010). "12: Weaving Promising Practices for Inclusive Excellence into the Higher Education Classroom," To Improve the Academy, 28(1), 208-226.

Experiencing Confidence and Enjoyment of Learning (ExCEL) interventions and training

Experiencing Confidence and Enjoyment of Learning (ExCEL)


Students are not passing courses or doing as well as they could, often because of certain psycho-social variables such as: academic motivation and confidence, empowerment to seek help, learning from failure and developing a growth mind set.


Increase student retention by providing social-emotional learning interventions to students in high DUF courses.  Provide support and training instructors how to reinforce the messaging and ideas associated with ExCEL learning principles.

The Details

1. Developmental Math and Math 140

  • Provided in classroom SEL presentations 3 times a semester-Developmental Math (since Sp 16)
  • Provide in classroom SEL presentations 2 times a semester- Math 140 (since Sp 18)

We have been collecting quantitative data from interventions with Developmental Math interventions. The data suggests that those students who attended all three workshops, passed the class at higher rate than those who attended less workshops. There is also data to suggest that the interventions had a greater impact on those students who come from underserved populations.

We have collected a large amount of qualitative data from Math 140 students.  The results indicated the workshops were valued and had a positive influence on their motivation and increased help-seeking behaviors.

2. Provided large classroom ExCEL presentation and/or video reflection to students in Political Science 155 (Sp 18)

Preliminary results appear to suggest an increase in overall student pass rate of 8% for the in-class presentation section and 5.8% for the online presentation section, and no significant change in pass rates for the control group section

3. Trained Supplemental Instructors (Developmental Math and Math 140) on ExCEL principles

Professional Development Training on how to utilize ExCEL in the classroom was rated high by the participants.  No follow up data collected.

4. Provided training to select number of faculty through workshop series

Project Leads

Mark Stevens, Ph.D. and Peter Mora, M.S.

Original Studies

ExCEL website

View supporting materials in My CSUN Box