More than 300 Fresno State students are speeding up their road to graduation thanks to a financial award program that helps pay for summer classes.

The Provost Graduation Initiative, which started in 2016, provides grants through the Division of Continuing and Global Education at Fresno State to eligible low-income, undergraduate students to pay for courses during the May-June intersession and the summer session.

The goal for the past two years was to remove financial barriers to completing a degree for students who were one or two classes away from graduating, said Dr. Daniel Bernard, executive director for Continuing and Global Education. Now, the program is open to all students who can demonstrate need, he said.

Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro has shared his vision for continued improvement in graduation rates. The goal by 2025 is a six-year rate around 70 percent and a four-year rate around 35 percent. The University has earned four awards from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities for its strategy to improve student success.

The provost initiative was honored with the Academic Leaders Tool of the Year award from the Western Academic Leadership Forum in 2016 for being the most innovative higher-education program in the western United States. The award is given to only one four-year institution in the region, which consists of 15 states and the U.S. Pacific territories.

During the first year of funding, 245 seniors were awarded $240,000 total to complete 824 units of coursework. In 2017, 198 students received grants worth $274,000 to complete 885 units. The results showed a nearly 6-percent and 5.25-percent increase, respectively, in the cumulative graduation rate if all students completed their coursework, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Fresno State.

This year, 318 students received grants totaling $384,600 to complete 1,332 credits. Students not yet graduating are only allowed to take one course per session.

Applications are available in early spring. To qualify, students must have undergraduate status and be enrolled at Fresno State during the fall or spring semester, and be in good academic standing. Students near graduation must have earned 80 or more academic units when applying. All other students must have an expected estimated family contribution of $4,000 or less to be eligible.

The initiative “is an innovative program that facilitates students’ completion of University coursework,” said Dr. Scott Moore, dean of Continuing and Global Education. “The program is designed to increase campus graduation rates and decrease the underrepresented minority graduation gap.”