AAC&U Centennial Symposium

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
AAC&U Centennial Symposium
Washington, D.C.
January 21, 2015

Thank you, Eduardo, Michael, and Carol.

The California State University is committed to preparing our students for the complicated problems they’ll face in the workplace and civil society after graduation.

We start with the premise that our alumni need to live, work, compete and prosper in a global pluralistic society.

As Michael Roth put it in his book, the goal of education is “the cultivation of the whole person for the whole of life.” Higher education must be beyond “workforce training” beyond the ABCs of a given discipline. Higher education must focus students on being:

  1. Culturally competent
  2. Civic engagement
  3. Multiple jobs
  4. Global view
  5. Teamwork
  6. Analytical problem solver
  7. Socially, economically, environmentally just
  8. Technologically competent
  9. Interpersonal skills
  10. Work ethic
  11. Ethical reasoning

To do so means drawing from the Liberal Education and America's Promise toolkit.
CSU faculty and staff are dedicated to LEAP practices that help focus our students on the application of classroom learning.

The CSU has formally incorporated LEAP’s Essential Learning Outcomes into our statewide guidance for general education – governing the education for 390,000 undergraduate students on 23 campuses, no matter what they major in.

CSU guidance also affects the 2.5 million students in the California Community Colleges – most of whom take courses aligned with CSU GE requirements and in any given year are approximately 50 percent of our incoming students.

Incorporating these Essential Learning Outcomes was a critical first step.  But we have more to do.


The panels from earlier today echoed the latest research I’ve seen – and what I heard recently from California’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye related to civic engagement:

Higher Education needs to better prepare students to successfully apply their learning throughout their lifetime – in a multifaceted, multicultural world.

That means putting students together in diverse teams right away, to work on complicated, cross-disciplinary problems that defy easy answers – in areas like globalization, cybersecurity and sustainability.

Project-based learning is one of the best ways we prepare students – as are service learning, peer mentoring, and learning communities.

One of my favorite ways to enhance student learning is through undergraduate research.

Perhaps the best thing about undergraduate research is that it teaches students how to confront ambiguity in the data. It also deepens that personal connection to faculty, which is important for all but especially first generation college students.


CSU support for LEAP practices is motivated by something else, too:  we see them as an important driver of equity.

One of the most exciting elements of these innovative practices is that – while all students benefit – the positive effect is measurably greater for students from historically underserved communities, in addition first-generation students, and students who come to the university with ground to make up in math and English.

The CSU in-house research conducted at Northridge, Fullerton and Chico corroborates these earlier findings from the AAC&U and others.

This proven differential provides a tangible means to close the achievement gaps within our student population.

The university’s engagement in LEAP relates to the very essence of our mission and our priorities.

You could say it is part of our DNA: we are about opportunity through access and diversity; we are about quality; we are about student success. We pride ourselves on who graduates, not on who we exclude. All those with intellect and a willingness to work should have access. 

This is California and America’s future.

And so getting students into a goal-oriented, highly engaging curriculum in the first two years is one of our highest priorities.

It helps us re-level the playing field, and live up to the university community’s own best expectations.


The CSU is from a certain perspective one university community. But, from another perspective, we are a community of 23 distinct universities – spread across a very large state – serving about 450,000 baccalaureate, masters, doctorates in education, and teaching credential students.

Orders, rules and guidelines are important and at times absolutely necessary. But, as a system we can also be facilitators who encourage innovation and exploration among our nearly 50,000 faculty and staff.

We can create environments where colleagues can learn from each other, with easy access to peer networks and datasets to inform decision-making and drive improvement.

Today, 1 in 10 in California is a graduate of the CSU, and as we celebrate 3 million living alumni, we look tomorrow to a looming degree deficit we need to help solve.

You will see many of those innovations here, at a number of sessions this evening and over the next few days.

For example, a number of our campuses, including Chico, Northridge, Fullerton, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and East Bay, are working with their nearby community colleges to create thematic GE pathways for transfer.

Students take the same number of GE courses they take now, but grouped around interdisciplinary themes rather than a random collection of different subjects.

This way, students can work through a complicated, pressing, multi-faceted problem across a number of related courses.

Several of the CSU campuses will confer a minor for students who complete their GE sequence in a given theme, even if they took most of those courses before they transferred.

Our statewide academic senate is engaged. And if it works as expected, the CSU – in collaboration with community college partners – could recognize these minors across the whole system at some future date.


I believe in the power of LEAP practices that apply student learning. But, of course, as a scientist I want data.

With support from the Gates Foundation, the CSU is engaged in a project called “Bringing High-Impact Practices to Scale.”

This project is calling together groups of experts to tackle the central challenge of almost any new endeavor – how to define, code and show the benefits of certain activities.

The handouts on your tables have an early example of these efforts in the Student Success Dashboard screenshot, which includes predictive campus-specific variables that affect student success, related to the benefits of Summer Bridge.

This holds promise: a personalized education delivered at scale. 

Measure what you value, but don’t commoditize.  Some vital aspects are not equal to a valid or reliable measurement.


A quality education is more than a degree and more than that first job.

A quality education is a path to success for every student – a path that develops core skills in critical reasoning, cultural competency and civic engagement.

Those are the cornerstones of a liberal education and why it is so important that we preserve and strengthen this area of student preparation.

Exploration and expansion of applied learning is a must, if we are to demonstrate the many benefits of liberal education in the lives of our students and future alumni.