Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - September 18, 2019

Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, The California State University
California Priorities: Focus on Education Summit – Keynote Address (as prepared)
California State University, Fresno – Satellite Student Union
Fresno, California
September 18, 2019

Thank you for the kind introduction, Hugo … and for your years of inspired, visionary leadership on behalf of Cal State's students, whether it's as a member of the CSU Board of Trustees or through your dedicated work here in the Central Valley community.

It's always great to be back at Fresno State. The first time I set foot on this campus was in the fall of 1967. More than 50 years ago … I can hardly believe it. I was still a teenager… an immigrant kid and first-generation student … trying to figure out my course schedule and navigate my way – both academically and socially – on a university campus. The experience was equal parts exhilarating and daunting.

So, as you might imagine, issues of authentic access to higher education … and the life-changing opportunities it provides … resonate very deeply with me. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today – and to engage with so many community, business and educational leaders from the Central Valley – on these vitally important matters.

In fact, access to higher education has never been more critical. Careers not requiring a college degree are increasingly becoming relics in the 21st century global knowledge economy. Higher education has always been an escalator of social mobility, but given our fast-changing workforce, the stakes are higher today than ever before.

And these changes coincide with the rising diversity of our citizenry… where the state of California, as in so many other areas, leads the way – our state's population demographics foretell those of the rest of the nation in the coming years.

Given these dynamics at work, those of us in education have a moral obligation to ensure genuine access to an affordable, quality education for all … regardless of income, background, gender, race, ethnicity or status.

It's an equally critical issue for the state. As I am sure many of you are aware, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state faces a deficit of 1.1 million bachelor's degree holders by 2030 … a deficit which, if not corrected, means lost productivity and stagnant economic and wage growth.

Helping California and Californians address these pressing needs is at the very heart of the California State University mission.

The CSU is the nation's largest and most ethnically and economically diverse public four-year university. We educate over 480,000 students. More than half are students of color. Forty-three percent receive Pell Grants and one-third are the first in their families to attend college. The CSU awards approximately half of the state's bachelor's degrees every year.

But you don't need me to tell you who Cal State's students and graduates are. You know them. They are your family members… your friends … your neighbors… your colleagues.

While the CSU is indeed a powerful driver of social mobility through higher education … we must do more. Put most simply, the demand for higher education is outpacing our capacity. Just this year, Fresno State was forced to turn away 8,000 eligible students. And while we were able to offer these students admission at other CSU campuses, this level of student demand was unheard of just a few years ago. And our modeling indicates that demand will continue to rise over the coming years, including here in the Central Valley, where K-12 districts are educating increasing numbers of CSU-eligible graduates … a testament to the work of many of you here today.

So how do we address the capacity issue? It starts – as these things so often do – with money. For the CSU, that means sufficient and predictable funding from the state. In the 2019-20 budget, Governor Newsom and the legislature invested boldly in higher education and in the CSU, including funds for growing enrollment by 2.75 percent … or 11,800 additional students. We are grateful for the state's demonstrated commitment to higher education, but stand ready to serve more California students. In fact, our projections indicate that we'll need funding to support 5 percent enrollment growth annually if we're to do our part in meeting the state's predicted degree deficit.

The funding component is, of course, critical to increasing access. But mere access can't be our goal. This morning, you've heard me refer to "authentic" or "genuine" access. If students walk through the door at one of our campuses … but can't get the classes they need … can't get an appointment with an advisor … can't meet with a tutor … they aren't going to be able to graduate. That might be access, but it's not authentic access. Bringing in more students than can be supported is counterproductive and diminishes the quality of the educational experience for all.

Our goal – our moral imperative – is to graduate increasing numbers of students – from all backgrounds – equipped with the knowledge, skills and personal qualities they need to succeed.

And if we can become better and more efficient at doing this – at helping our students succeed – we'll ease capacity constraints at the same time. When current students are given the support and resources they need to graduate on their desired timelines, they save time and money, entering California's workforce faster and increasing their lifetime earning potential. And, given the CSU's massive scale, percentage improvements to our graduation rates significantly free up capacity, increasing authentic access for the benefit of future students.

Introduced in 2016, the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025 is doing exactly that. Our ambitious goals include significantly increasing graduation rates for both incoming freshmen and transfer students. And, importantly, entirely eliminating graduation rate gaps between historically underserved students and their peers – all by 2025.

Here are a few of the actions we're implementing to achieve these goals:

  • We have eliminated stand-alone, no-credit, developmental education classes – commonly known as "remedial courses." Instead, students arriving on our campuses in need of additional help in mathematics or English are placed in redesigned, credit-bearing courses with additional academic support. The early results have been truly remarkable. By way of example, I'll focus on mathematics. In 2017 and 2018, approximately the same number of students arrived on CSU campuses in need of additional help in math. But in 2018, with our new policy, 10,550 more students attempted a lower-division, credit-bearing course math course. Completion rates remained the same. The bottom line? Seven thousand. In 2018, seven thousand more students completed a lower-division math course, earned credit – saved money – and are now on track to graduate.

    That is consequential.
  • Campuses have hired additional tenure-track faculty to teach more course sections, particularly in high-demand courses, helping to ensure that students are able to take the classes they need, when they need them.
  • We're educating students about the importance and benefits of taking a full course load – 15 semester credits – and supporting those students with more effective, data-driven advising and mentoring models that provide additional help at the precise moments when students need it the most. Additionally, campuses are providing financial support to students in need, such as Fresno's Bulldog Grant program, which has helped hundreds of talented students in financial need reach the finish line over the past three years.
  • And, we've implemented measures to ensure a more welcoming, inclusive campus environment, including dedicating resources to provide space, programming and staff to support first-generation students and students of color.While we are just two years into Graduation Initiative 2025, we are already seeing significant progress toward our goals. Across the board, graduation rates for first-time and transfer students are at all-time highs. Even more exciting, equity gaps are beginning to close.

    That is transformational.

The last piece of the access puzzle I'd like to address today is the very reason we've gathered together for this forum – collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration and cooperation among public and independentinstitutions and the community colleges … with our K-12 partners … and with the communities our institutions serve.

The Central Valley has taken a leadership role in this regard and in many respects is a model for other regions in the state.

College Next inspires high school students to set clear post-secondary goals, and provides transcript data-sharing resources to facilitate the transitions from high school to college and to career.

Central Valley Promise shows extraordinary potential to enhance college readiness, ease students' financial burdens and raise college completion rates across the region.

The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium is committed to fostering intersegmental cooperation to address capacity issues and to bring about more equitable opportunities for students of color.

This spirit of cooperation and collaboration is laudable – and takes so many vibrant forms here in the valley. Community and business leaders are increasingly stepping up with scholarships, internships and real-world experiences that supplement and enhance students' work in the classroom and lab … not to mention the job opportunities that set graduates on a course for professional success.

Community colleges and the region's four-year institutions are developing coordinated strategies to ensure that students are getting the right advising … that they are taking the appropriate courses for transfer … that they stay motivated and understand their next steps and what's expected of them ... and that the "hand-off" between institutions is seamless.

Powerfully exemplifying the extraordinary spirit of intersegmental collaboration that thrives here in the Central Valley, the College of the Sequoias has provided space on its Visalia campus to Fresno State – at no cost – to establish Fresno State's Visalia Campus. Degree programs in business, nursing and education are offered to students from the South Valley who don't have the means or time to relocate or commute to Fresno's main campus.

As this example so wonderfully demonstrates, the relationships among the institutional leaders in the region are authentic … strong … principled. These are leaders who want what's best for the students and families they serve – whether the best fit for a particular student might be at FCC, Reedley, Fresno Pacific, CSU Bakersfield, Stanislaus State, Fresno State or UC Merced. These are leaders who acknowledge and understand the very real economic challenges this region faces. But more important, they understand the remarkable talents and unrelenting determination of the Central Valley's students – so many of whom are not place-bound, but place-committed … Who want to get a high-quality education near their homes … to discover their passions and gain the knowledge and skills to achieve their dreams … and, ultimately, to elevate the families – and the communities – they love.

Thank you for all that you do for these inspired – and inspirational – students.

By this point, I'm sure you're tired of hearing me talk – I know I am. But I think we have a couple minutes before the next panel begins and I would love to hear from you. Joe Kieta, do we have time for a few questions?