Korey Domingos was determined to graduate from college in four years, even if that involved going to school full-time while working two full-time jobs. 

She said she believes some students who have the ambition and drive to finish in four years are faced with circumstances beyond their control that make it difficult. Domingos credits Fresno State’s Strategic Teacher Education Partnership (STEP) cohort program for helping her to succeed and graduate in four years. 

The program is a two-year pathway offered by the Department of Liberal Studies at Fresno State. Students in a STEP cohort have their classes pre-selected for them, and they go through the program with the same peers in each class. The cohorts are also set up with cohort-specific faculty, allowing faculty to better align their curriculum and exams. The program removes the stress of registering for classes and ensures, with successful program completion, a set graduation date.

In 2016, Domingos transferred to Fresno State from West Hills College – Lemoore. She was originally attracted to the cohort because it promised a two-year completion of her upper-division coursework. 

As a 2018 graduate, Domingos credits the cohort for her smooth transition from junior college transfer to four-year graduate. “It just takes the stress out of figuring what you need to do. It takes it and puts it in someone else’s hands who knows what they’re doing,” Domingos said. 

“Especially coming from a little pool of West Hills, in a little town of Hanford, to Fresno State. You had a direction and it made you feel more sure of yourself, like you knew you were doing the right thing.” 

Dominos and her roommate at the time, who was also a liberal studies major, had two completely different experiences. She said her roommate was not in a cohort and had difficulty identifying the courses she needed to take and when. Because of this, it took her an extra year to graduate.

“If [students] can graduate in four years, they can go out into the job market, the real world, and start making a difference at the professional level,” said Jessica McVay, academic adviser for the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State. “Because we’re in the education field, it is important that we get our educators out there so they can teach the future.”

In 2015, the California State University launched Graduation Initiative 2025, an ambitious plan to increase graduation rates, eliminate equity gaps in degree completion and meet California’s workforce needs. By 2025, the CSU’s goal is to have 45% of transfer students graduate in two years and 85% of transfer students graduate in four years. 

Fresno State’s liberal studies program is already surpassing the 2025 goal, with 63% of transfer students graduating in two years and 87% of transfer students graduating in four years.

“Our staff here in the Kremen School are incredible,” Domingos said. “They know what you need. They tell you, they don’t mess around. They know exactly where you need to go and how to do it. They’re watching out for their students.”

McVay has been advising at Fresno State since 2012. She is one of the three academic advisers at the Kremen School who are Fresno State alumni. The trio advises over 1,500 students a semester. McVay’s love for Fresno State and ambition to want to help students who were once in her shoes is what moved her to become an adviser.

“My favorite part is being able to have the opportunity to go into their world and take that time out to have one-on-one with them. That’s their time for someone to really focus on them for the short period that we’re together,” McVay said. “So really having that human, face-to-face connection, I think that’s important.”

McVay, herself, was not able to graduate in four years and struggled with a lack of guidance during her first year as an undergraduate student. “I was still discovering myself, and I think that when you’re thrown into that situation at 18 years old, it’s scary. And being first-generation, you just don’t know where to go. And so I spent a whole year and a half struggling, trying to find out what to do.”

Domingos, who enrolled in the first-ever STEP cohort in spring 2016, said she made sure to see her advisers every semester in order to ensure she was on the right track to graduate on time. That first cohort launched with 30 students. Today, there are now 11 cohorts with 275 students.

Domingos, who grew up watching her mother as a teacher, now teaches at Kit Carson Elementary School in Hanford. Her younger sister is a student at Fresno State, following the same career path.