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Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White – January 27, 2015

​Chancellor, California State University
State of the California State University
Long Beach, CA
January 27, 2015

Thank you, Devon. You and your fellow student leaders are outstanding advocates of the California State University both in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

You are the true champions of your peers when it comes to advancing the system and advancing, quite frankly, the work of this board.

And it is appropriate to begin the State of the CSU with students – the reason we are all here.

The State of… that is a set of words that has a very specific meaning in the American lexicon. Used in the right context, we know these words signify the predictions and ambitions of a president, governor or mayor for the future.

But, the CSU is a university, not a government. And as an academic institution, we often begin the pursuit of knowledge with questions. So, here are three questions for us to consider together:

  • How does the university create opportunity?
  • How does the university sustain quality?
  • And how does the university enable success?

To begin to answer these questions, I look to the environment in which the CSU exists. And at a very fundamental level, the California State University is inseparable from the State of California.

The California State University is meeting the imperative put forward by Governor Brownin his recent State of the State: to achieve affordable and timely completionwith excellence. For six generations, the CSU has turned student potential into success. In so doing, the university has transformed the state’s economy and society.

And today, I will lay out an ambitious next phase of our ongoing effort to enhance student achievement. This phase will take the form of Graduation Initiative 2025.

This announcement comes as the CSU celebrates 3 million living alumni – who can each share a story of triumph in the face of adversity. Each had a peak to ascend on their journey to a degree. Yet, for some the slope was more steeply angled.

And chances are that those ascending the steepest slopes did so with the help of the occasional outstretched hand or a small nudge or – when needed – a large push. Acknowledging this reality helps us better understand the communal effort that contributes to a single graduation.

Let me illustrate with the story of a young man who ascended a slope that is steeper than most.

Expectations of educational attainment are too often set low for African American males in the foster care system – particularly a child who grew up in a struggling community.

Aaron Green said of his schooling in Compton: We’re not supposed to go to college.

But, Aaron is in many ways the embodiment of the spirit of the CSU student body:

  • he rose above the loss of his parents as an infant and again after the loss of his loving foster mother, Annie Hartford
  • he rose above disease and disability
  • and he rose above uncertainty about where he would sleep and where his next meal would come from

Aaron persisted, he overcame… and he prospered.

He demonstrated his ability and perseverance, with a 3.8 high school GPA. Despite this achievement, the folks at his school encouraged him to skip his plans to enter the CSU as a freshman and go to a community college first.

Now… that is certainly a viable path. It was the one that I took – and fully half of CSU undergraduates take.

But Aaron was personally driven to enter the CSU at the end of high school. He chose to meet the reservations and low expectations expressed by others with the words of his foster mother:

Remove ‘I can’t’ and replace it with ‘I can.’

And Aaron did!

Aaron completed his final undergraduate class at Cal State Long Beach just this past December. He now has his bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Aaron, please stand so we can welcome you to Class of 3 Million Alumni…

Congratulations and thank you. We are a better place because you are forever part of the CSU family.

Aaron would be the first to acknowledge those who helped him succeed. Let me tell you about a few members of that Cal State Long Beach community.

  • Andy Espinoza, the director of the Educational Opportunity Program, he connected Aaron with a network of support through Summer Bridge – helping Aaron overcome the intimidation of going off to college
  • Dan Monson, coach of the men’s basketball team, who created an athletics family for Aaron and served as his father figure
  • T.J. Robinson and Casper Ware, student athletes who motivated Aaron as peers and also were his friends
  • Professor Jeff Davis, who challenged Aaron academically while serving as his mentor
  • Katherine Lee, an alumna and regional director at Providence Service Corporation who inspired Aaron and helped him understand his foster care experience in the broader context of the system
  • And finally… Police Officer Rodney Dickerson and Corporal Vergel Muñoz, who invited Aaron to eat lunch with them and accompany them on rounds – keeping a protective eye on Aaron

I thank everyone who helped Aaron ascend to his peak potential… and by extension thank all faculty and staff who day in and day out help countless students.

Importantly, Aaron was never one to take without giving back in equal measure.

  • He worked in EOP to give the next class of students the same opportunities he had
  • He managed the basketball team, enabling their victories
  • He enriched the classroom by sharing his firsthand accounts of the foster system
  • And he inspired us all

And Aaron is making new contributions to the world around him as an alumnus. He recently accepted a position helping identify and support homeless and hungry students across the CSU.

The public investment in Aaron is paying dividends for the students of CSU and the people of California.

You see, this is the mutually-beneficial interconnection or – as I might describe as a scientist – the symbiosis of a community. We all gain from each other… and we all contribute.

You see this symbiosis in action across the state and this country. The Class of 3 Million CSU Alumni represents approximately one in ten employees in the State of California, and one in twenty university degree holders in the United States of America. 

Stop and reflect on what I just said – this amazing accomplishment. It seems to me all Californians should take pride in the impact and importance of their State University.

The iconic corporations and research centers of this state have direct pipelines of talent from our campuses. Like San José State, the number one supplier of talent to perhaps California’s most iconic company – Apple.

We are fortunate to have representatives of Apple with us today, including Anne Van Middlesworth, National Higher Education Development Manager for Apple Education …

Thank you for joining us, Anne. We look forward to hearing from you later today as you recognize Cal State Northridge.

As CSU alumni power Apple and other established industry leaders, they are also investing time and talent in the small start-ups that will join these California icons.

The 23 campuses of the CSU combine as California’s number one supplier of teachers – as well as engineers, accountants, health care and hospitality professionals, agricultural scientists, business leaders, filmmakers, journalists, social workers… and the list goes on.

These graduates are the legacy of compelling efforts carried through generations of CSU faculty and CSU staff.

Our 45,000 faculty and staff are making a difference every day in the lives of students at all levels of the educational system – including new innovations in higher education – while also solving some entrenched applied research and policy challenges in criminal justice, transportation, health, the food supply chain, cybersecurity, energy and the environment.

45,000 faculty and staff… that equals the population of the City of San Luis Obispo…

… and these remarkable faculty and staff are making a difference in every corner of California, from the multicultural Imperial Valley campus in Calexico to the forestry fields in Humboldt, and from the Desert Studies Center in the Mojave to the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies in the San Francisco Bay.

Today, during the Wang Family Excellence Awards, you will hear about the exemplary contributions of our employees. The people we honor today have distinguished themselves among a cadre of excellent peers.

We are indeed grateful that generous donors support many extraordinary endeavors of faculty and staff. And you will hear today about the best year – the best year ever – in fundraising at the CSU.

Donors believe in what we do, who we serve and how we create new pathways for success. Every gift, large and small, marries the passion of a donor to an opportunity for excellence at the CSU.

In addition to critical funds, donors and volunteer leaders provide access to cutting-edge technology and applied learning opportunities.

The generous support of university alumni and friends is a key part of any future for the CSU community. And we thank you.

However, we cannot ignore that the public good of the California State University is made possible by the public investment of the State of California.

The state must be a reliable and strong partner if the CSU is to succeed as a steward of human, physical and technological capital – thereby empowering California’s economic and social success.

Lawmakers are therefore another key part of the CSU community, certainly holding us accountable to our public mission and to higher levels of achievement. We welcome that. But, lawmakers are partners with the university as well in securing essential resources that enable CSU innovation and capacity building… in order to meet the state’s and the nation’s demand for college degrees in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

We are well aware that those efforts need to be stepped up as the state approaches a drought, a drought of one million college graduates by 2025.

In the last decade, more than 900,000 CSU degrees have been earned. An impressive figure, but that number will need to rise if California is to mitigate this coming education drought.

Hard work and innovation – combined with the fierce loyalty and commitment of the people of the CSU – has enabled success in an austere environment so far. For example, every student in the CSU takes courses infused by advanced educational technology and online tools.

But it is time for a reality check… or perhaps better said, our check on reality… That feeling that the people of the CSU are doing more for less – and that all of us are working harder to keep up – isn’t just a feeling. It is CSU’s reality.

And I must agree with the Governor, again, that students should not be the default financiers of higher education. But the historical financiers of higher education ­– the people of California – are ill-served if their public universities crumble due to lack of sufficient investment.

Let me articulate one way that this plays out. In real terms, the CSU – combining both state appropriation and student tuition collected – has $8,000 less today, per degree earned, than it did just ten years ago.

$8,000 less today… per degree earned

And the rate of CSU degrees earned has increased by 20,000 over this same time span. That is 20,000 more educated workers and contributors to society per year – helping to meet the state’s economic and social bottom lines.

So… the CSU is lean, effective, and efficient. We have bent the cost curve. But we are setting a bold goal for our university, and we need the state to do its part to help resource it.

The consequences of failure are severe. To quote the Bay Area Council Economic Institute analysis in December 2014: This workforce gap can be resolved in just two ways – by improving California’s educational outcomes, or by accepting the loss of quality jobs in the state.

At the end of the day, we all – the state and the university – share common cause in seeing more students succeed at higher rates, so they can go on to design California’s future.

We have done much on that front, together. Indeed, the median time to degree for students starting with the CSU today – as freshmen – is less than five years. This is a tremendous improvement from a decade ago. In the next phase of the CSU’s ongoing student achievement efforts, Graduation Initiative 2025, we will move that number even closer to four years.

Therefore, today we commit to the goal of increasing the graduation rate for freshmen by an additional nine percentage points to 60 percent systemwide by 2025. This improvement in the six-year rate will be couple with also:

  • Increasing the four-year graduation rates
  • Maximizing transfer graduation rates
  • And reducing the historical achievement gaps for underserved and low-income students

This ambitious plan will result in 100,000 more degree-holding Californians than we otherwise would have.

Think of the benefit of a 100,000 more Aarons for individuals, families, communities, regions and the state. Indeed, for the country.

The Bay Area Council again affirms this benefit, citing a return of $4.50 to state coffers – in additional taxes paid and social welfare costs avoided over a lifetime – for every dollar invested in a student’s higher education. 

Achieving our graduation goals over the next decade – thereby accruing these societal benefits – will be our measure of shared success in the CSU community. This effort will raise the CSU’s already high standing among peer institutions across this great country.

But let’s be real… shared success will only come from a shared commitment – state and university, faculty and staff, students and alumni, trustees and elected leaders.

And as we commit to these ambitious goals, we should keep in mind that the bigger principle is both simply and profoundly stated success through opportunity with quality. The things we can measure help us know if we are on the right track. But, as we know, there are many very important components of higher education that cannot be measured.

Indeed, the bottom line of the Graduation Initiative is a path to success for every student – a path that develops core skills in critical reasoning, cultural competency and civic engagement.

The lesson we learn from Aaron is that every student’s journey is different. Education is intensely personal. Every degree is its own accomplishment. Yet, the rewards are shared by all of us.

And as Aaron’s foster mother Annie Hartford told him, we must remove ‘I can’t’ and replace it with ‘I can.’

I say that we can build a stronger CSU together. We can create new methods of delivering education and services. We can identify practices that work and expand them. And we can build meaningful external partnerships.

We can and together we are.

Collaboration in our work is a refrain that you will hear throughout the coming years.

Today, for example, you will hear a report on CSU STEM Collaboratives. Funded by a recent $4.7 million Helmsley Charitable Trust grant, these collaborative laboratories – or as Stephen Colbert might call them… ‘collaboratories’ – are reinventing science, technology, engineering and math education with summer immersion before college, integrating with a First Year Freshman Experience.

And this grant is enabling the CSU to study practices that are effective and applicable across a wide range of both STEM and non-STEM disciplines.

These are the types of activities and innovative thinking we need if we are to empower every student to succeed.

And the success of students depends on collaboration of both the classroom and the broader campus.

Consider for a moment the benefit to student learning and success that comes from the Veterans’ Center, or the Student Leadership and Development office, or the Services to Students with Disability office.

As I’ve confirmed in my conversations with Aaron – he does not see the divisional structures and institutional walls of a campus. Rather, he and other students recognize when a campus is meeting their needs and empowering their success.

It is our responsibility to work together, hand-in-hand, to ensure that our artificial walls are not barriers to the progress of any student.

Academic affairs, student affairs, public safety, accounting, technology services, building and grounds maintenance… each of these functions plays a role in setting the stage for student success – as do all California State University employees.

Every employee makes a difference in students’ lives, as did those who were there for Aaron at Cal State Long Beach.

Each of us has a role to play. Each of us can take student success on as our own personal and professional mission.

So in closing, let me return to the questions posed at the beginning of this talk: How does the university create opportunity, sustain quality and enable success?

Aaron’s example tells us how the CSU meets the unique needs of California by providing opportunity for all students to access a quality education – preparing them for a lifetime of success. We do so as a symbiotic and mission-driven community for the benefit of all society.

So therefore, the State of the CSU is not something that exists in abstract. The State of the CSU is very real, and it is sustained every day in what we build together.

The State of the CSU is strong because our community is strong.

The State of the CSU is stronger today because our community is stronger today.

And we will prove our strength in the lives of our students, in the lives they lead as alumni, and in the many lives they will touch.

Thank you so much for joining me today, and for being part of this great California State University community.

Chair Monville, that concludes my report.