Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - April 30, 2018

Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
Western Association of College and University Business Officers
Anaheim, California
April 30, 2018

Thank you Steve and Teresa.

As you saw in our introductory video, the California State University… with its half million students, 50,000 faculty and staff… and 3.4 million alumni... is California's engine of upward social mobility, discovery and prosperity.

Cal State is the pathway for millions from the margins to the middle-class and beyond.

Cal State is one key.

We are the largest – and most diverse – public senior university in the country. But more important than our size is the fact that more than half of our students are students of color… and over one-third of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college.

And while it's important to note that 95 percent of Cal State students come from California high schools and community colleges, we are a university of national and international consequence.

In the sixth-largest economy in the world, Cal State 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, Cal State is the leading supplier of top-tier talent to tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.

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

In LA… and right here in Orange County and to the south in San Diego… Cal State 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.

And I really appreciate all that Steve, alongside his system and campus business colleagues, is doing to make that possible at Cal State… and by extension all of you gathered here with operational and policy responsibility.

California has sadly not escaped the trends of unpredictable and insufficient resources for public higher education.

Our future really depends on a recommitment from the state and federal leaders… and Steve and the Cal State team have been instrumental in showing that we are deserving of that commitment… with thoughtful, prudent and innovative resource management.

My job… and that of our advocates… is to tell stories as Soledad said this morning, and show why it is in the best interest of the state to invest those public dollars.

And in the context of your conference theme… Just Imagine

Just imagine when elected officials realize the investment in higher education… public university operations, research, financial aid… true for public and private universities…creates the seed corn of tomorrow's discoveries, inventions, healthcare, education and entertainment… to name a few.

This Disneyland venue is great for imagining.

In line with your theme, I ask you to just imagine some 60 years ago when Walt Disney, during his brief remarks for the opening of Disneyland, said that at Disneyland…

'…youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America… with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.'

One may have thought Walt was dedicating a university with such hopes and dreams of the future of America.

Indeed, in 1955, when Disneyland opened, state support for public institutions all across this county was strong and reliable.

In 1955, one day at Disneyland cost no more than $7.50… $2.50 for admission and eight rides and $5.00 for all attractions.

And one year at the Cal State cost zero dollars… just $20 or so for fees.

So it is clear, our task is to tell stories coupled with facts and data to increase understanding of…

... Why we are the key

... Why we matter

... Why we are a prudent public and private investment

… And why funding higher education is in everyone's best interest as the ladders of economic and social ascent – as you saw in that Vox Media video.

More access to quality higher education is what the Golden State… and the United States… 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 drought, if it manifests, will be more significant and long-lasting than the episodic water droughts we endure.

For water droughts… a couple of storms and our state is in a better place.

But for education… a degree drought means a couple of lost generations… which will be detrimental to the state.

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.

We know higher education is a key to their and our prosperity going forward…


The Cal State community is compelled and empowered by our mission to meet the needs of California, including closing our share of the degree gap.

Therefore, the Cal State 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. They can – and must – be eliminated.

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:

  • Adding more faculty, academic advisors and student support staff;
  • 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
  • Rethinking administrative barriers, so things like library fines and filing deadlines don't keep students from graduating.

We're all-in on the Graduation Initiative... and we're already seeing improvements on our four and six-year graduation rates for all students – including 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 in 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 are engaging every business and academic unit in the system to make this lift.

So why am I here today?

Because I know that we in higher education face many shared challenges and opportunities... here in the West and across the United States.

As we learned from Soledad O'Brien this morning… we are all gatekeepers to the American Dream. Not only do we need to control our own stories, as higher education business officers, we all need to share stories to inspire people to think of things that can be done to solve problems and eliminate obstacles for our learners.

Telling stories. There isn't just one story… there are many, many realities. All of these stories – all of these realities – are powerful and compelling. These stories explain why we matter.

I invite you to redouble this part of our work… to lend your experience in solving challenges and creating opportunities… so that together – in dialogue – new thought leadership and strategies can emerge.

As Steve said… I encourage my campus colleagues to be innovative and then test their results… so that we can all replicate and expand on proven best practices. And dump the duds.

Today – on the vast proving grounds of our individual campuses – are the ideas we need to get ready for the big challenges of today and around the corner.

Think about this… the graduating bachelor's class of 2025 is already finishing up its freshman year of high school. We're on an increasingly urgent and accelerated timeline.

So how will we keep our momentum going?

How will we take the next steps to ensure that every qualified student – regardless of background, circumstance or status – reaches their dream-driven academic, career and life goals?

We do it through partnerships with our state governments, the K-12 system and community colleges, of course… and increasingly, and with much efficacy, through partnerships with community, business, policy and philanthropic organizations.

We will achieve our goals by maximizing our resources. By being efficient and effective stewards of public, private and student dollars, so that we can invest as much as possible in academics, student research and student support.

We will achieve our goals by activating and empowering every department – every university function – to be focused on student success and degree completion.

It takes the proverbial village.

Yes, it takes resources. People complain it's expensive… but it's a heck of a lot more expensive – for students, for communities, for states, for all of us throughout this country and world – if we fall short and fail.

So for me the answer is simple… we will not fail. We will succeed for our shared future. And you are key to that success.

Just Imagine.

Thank you.