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Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - April 23, 2018

Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
Southern California Grantmakers Public Policy Conference
Los Angeles, CA
April 23, 2018


Thank you, Peter (Taylor), for that introduction… and for all that you do on behalf of the students and employees of the California State University… and for California through your ECMC Foundation.

Peter and his board colleagues – in addition to being my boss – have shown incredible fortitude, thoughtfulness, compassion and foresight as they help guide this dynamically diverse and consequential university.

I am very thankful for Peter's leadership, his wise counsel… and indeed, his unwavering support for public education in California.

Thank you, Peter.

[Lead applause]

And I'd like to of course thank the Southern California Grantmakers for today's invitation.

I'm told the theme of this year's conference is California Counts… I couldn't agree more.

Although for my keynote today, I'm going to amend that theme to California Counts… and the CSU is key to our economic, social and environmental futures.

As you saw in our introductory video, the CSU and its 23 campuses, 484,000 students, 52,000 faculty and staff and 3.4 million alumni...we are California's past, present and future engines of upward social mobility, discovery and prosperity.

Like my background… the CSU is the pathway from the margins to the middle-class and beyond.

The CSU is key.

We are the largest – and most diverse – public senior university in the country. More than half of our students are students of color… and one-third of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college.

I've brought along some Fact Books… hot off the press… for you to take and learn more.

And with the 2020 census as a topic for today, it's important to note that 95 percent of CSU students came from California high schools.

In the sixth-largest economy in the world, the CSU awards nearly half of the state's bachelor's degrees each year… and we prepare the majority of California's teachers, engineers and nurses.

In the Bay Area, the CSU is the leading supplier of top-tier talent to tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.

In the Central Valley and Wine Country, the CSU's directed research – coupled with our alumni – is helping to build and shape the future of agriculture and agribusiness.

And right here in Los Angeles and to the south in San Diego, the CSU is preparing the next generation of designers, engineers, builders and creators in the entertainment, biotechnology and aerospace industries.

We are – in a variety of areas – meeting the evolving needs of California today… and helping create and design the California of tomorrow.

So here's what the Golden State needs to compete in the 21st century global economy…

As I'm sure many of you have read, recent projections by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California indicate that our state will face a 1.1 million degree shortfall by 2030… only a dozen years away.

This is more significant and long-lasting than the episodic water droughts we endure.

We know what a severe shortage in our highly-skilled, well-educated workforce means to our economy in terms of lost productivity, a lack of innovation and stagnant economic and wage growth.

And we know what it means for our families, communities and society at large – particularly those who are first-generation and low-income – when the escalators of upward social mobility are broken and they don't have the knowledge and skills necessary to live, work, compete and prosper in the knowledge economy.

So, because the CSU matters… and is a key going forward…

And because we are powered by our public mission to meet the needs of California, including meeting our share of the degree gap… the CSU launched an ambitious plan a few years ago to:

  • Increase graduation rates;
  • Decrease time to earn a degree, thereby saving money for both the student and the state; and
  • Eliminate achievement and equity gaps that persist between student groups based on socioeconomics… they don't have to exist.

We call it Graduation Initiative 2025… a comprehensive initiative that touches every inch of this university and charts our strategic path forward… through efforts such as:

  • Rethinking administrative barriers, so things like library fines and filing deadlines don't keep students from graduating;
  • Offering completion grants – a newer idea in higher education – to assist students who are on-track to graduate but suffer a modest financial shortfall that could derail their education; and
  • Adding more faculty, academic advisors and student support staff…

So we can offer additional course sections, flipped learning experiences and effective infusion of technology so that students can get the courses they need, when they need them.

We're all-in on the Graduation Initiative... and we're already seeing improvements on our four and six-year graduation rates for students – about half of our student body – who transfer from community college.

In fact in 2017, the Graduation Initiative helped propel an additional 7,000 students to a bachelor's degree compared to the prior year.

And in their first year of employment alone, those 7,000 additional graduates are projected to collectively earn more than $328 million… returning 10 percent to taxes to fuel California.

Now that's one heck of a return on investment!

But we know we have more to do… particularly to close equity and achievement gaps and ensure that all students, regardless of background, circumstance or status, have the same opportunities to be successful and earn a degree.

This is heavy lift, but it is an achievable lift. And we will need help from our partners to succeed.

One major focus of the graduation initiative is improving academic preparation.

Today, 25,000 students arrive at the CSU ready to get started with their college courses, but are deemed unprepared for college-level math.

Of these students, one in four will not return for their second year, only 10 percent will graduate in four years and less than half will earn a degree after six years.

And we know that this status quo disproportionately impacts students from historically underserved communities. We have a moral imperative to solve this.

But that is about to change. We recently enacted bold and courageous policy changes to remedial/developmental education, skills assessment and course placement.

Faculty and staff across all 23 campuses are hard at work redesigning courses and implementing these new policies so that… beginning fall 2018… all freshmen stepping foot on a CSU campus for the first time have the opportunity to begin earning college credit on their first day.

Yes, we'll take care of any soft spots they have… while making progress to degree.

So why am I here today? Well, besides the fact that the original – and best – French dip sandwich is just across the street… I'm here to share our message that time is of the essence.

Think about this… the CSU graduating class of 2025 is already finishing up its freshman year at Grand Arts High School here in Downtown LA.

We're on an increasingly accelerated timeline. The significant work that we must still do to reach our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals – and meet our share of the 1.1 million degrees needed – requires an ever-accelerating execution.

So how will we keep our momentum going? How will we take the next steps to ensure that every qualified Californian – regardless of background, circumstance or status – reaches their dream-driven academic, career and life goals?

We do it through partnerships with the State of California, the K-12 system and California's community colleges, of course… and increasingly, and with much efficacy, through partnerships with community, business and philanthropic organizations.

It takes the proverbial village. It takes resources. People say it's expensive, but it's a heck of a lot more expensive – for that student, for our communities, for our state, for all of us – if we fall short and fail.

Over the past year, CSU partnerships with philanthropic organizations – including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Chevron, Bechtel, College Futures, Irvine Foundation, Stupski Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust and more – have been instrumental in helping deliver student outcomes in an accelerated timeline.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust, for example, supported the efforts of eight CSU campuses – five in the LA metro region – to rethink how they support first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – as they transition to college and experience their first year.

Each CSU campus supported by Helmsley's generous grant redesigned introductory STEM courses and applied integrated high-impact practices including:

  • Implementing summer bridge programs – like STEM Collaboratives – that kindle students' commitment to completing their degree and pursuing a STEM career; and
  • First-year experiences like Cal State LA's FYrE (FIRE) at ECST… which engages first-time freshmen in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology by providing them the tools to prepare, thrive and succeed throughout their entire college career.

Through the implementation of these high-impact practices, campuses identified the importance of a unified community of support to help break the often-negative climates these students face, or the low expectations of self that they bring to campus.

And campuses identified that these shared experiences helped students develop a strong sense of belonging and an improved sense of self… which research says is critical to persistence, completion and success.

Our three year project with Helmsley concluded last year… and over the life of the project, more than 12,000 students took part.

One grant. Eight campuses. 12,000 students.

That's impactful. That's consequential. That is the power of the CSU… and why it is key to our collective futures.

And together, our philanthropic partnerships are allowing us to:

  • Support faculty creativity… helping us redesign courses, adding in academic support components and ‘stretching' the course so that material is covered over more than one term, allowing students more time to digest, learn and reflect on the material;
  • Offer professional development, providing tools and support to fuel faculty and staff innovation in the teaching and learning space during the implementation of the Graduation Initiative; and
  • Create tools to holistically evaluate our efforts… ensuring that our new policies have the intended impact on student outcomes… and giving us the insight to make corrections if necessary and scale up when justified.

Most importantly, these partnerships allow us to accelerate student achievement and success.

They help us improve the student learning experience for more students, faster.

They represent an important endorsement of our efforts, lending credibility and justification for public and private resources to be invested.

And they help us stay on track to meet our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals, thereby producing the graduates needed to power California's innovative future.

Economically. Socially. Environmentally.

So as we continue to move forward with Graduation Initiative 2025…

As we continue to implement new remedial and developmental education policies ensuring all students the opportunity to be on-track by the end of their first year to graduate in four years.

And as we continue to strengthen advising and enrollment management so that students get the courses they need when they need them…

Public-private partnerships will be more critical to the CSU than ever before, especially as state investment in public higher education remains unpredictable and insufficient.

Indeed, partnerships are critical to our success... to the success of our students and faculty… and to the success of California today, tomorrow and for decades to come.

Partnerships are a key to our future.

Thank you.