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California Latino Leadership Education Summit

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
California Latino Leadership Education Summit
Fresno, CA
October 30, 2015

I want to thank Paula… and thank the California Latino Leadership Network, Chair Murillo and to Fresno State for hosting this important summit… And thank you to presidents Castro, Mitchell and Sheley for your leadership.

The panel we just had is an excellent example of the ingenuity of educational leaders across the state. It is truly these regional partnerships that will lead the way if we are to make the journey from pre-school through 12th grade… to community college… and on to a bachelor’s degree or more as smooth and effective as possible.

My colleagues who just spoke demonstrated the power of thinking P through B – pre-school through the bachelor’s degree.

My intention today is to give a brief overview of the state context in which these powerful regional partnerships can flourish.

The TWO Droughts

And the first thing to understand from the state perspective is that we face two droughts: one of water and one of bachelor’s educated citizenry.

A case can be made that the San Joaquin Valley – where I earned my bachelor’s degree – is at the center of both.

Anyone who has driven up the interstate 5 or 99 from Southern California to Kettleman City learns to appreciate the vastness of California.

There is a temptation to refer to the great expanse of land alongside the 5 as empty. Of course, we all know better. Far from being empty, that area is the southernmost stretch of one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the United States – indeed in the world.

And today, those who drive I5 and 99 are reminded of another fact about California – we are in a devastating drought. Almond trees are uprooted and burned. Shades of green have given way to shades of brown. And once verdant fields are now acres of cracked mud.

Sitting among one of these fields of cracked mud is a farm trailer. The banner on the trailer reads: Food Grows where Water Flows.

There is a simple and undeniable logic to this. Yet, the indictment is also very clear. The water drought is a human-made disaster. Let me say that again: The water drought is a human-made disaster.

  • We continued to expand our residential, commercial and agricultural demands to the limits of existing water resources, bringing us to the edge of disaster
  • We failed to make critical investments in infrastructure – infrastructure for collection, transportation, recycling, use reduction or even basic service to dry-well communities like East Porterville – speeding us to that disaster
  • And we ignored that weather cycles are becoming even more extreme as a result of global climate change – inviting disaster when the record-setting dry years inevitably strike

So, WE failed to see the inevitable coming and did too little to soften the blow. Now we are left with draconian steps to correct our mistakes… as attested to by those fields of cracked mud and billions in proposed water projects… with the lost crops and lost jobs – jobs that support the families of the San Joaquin Valley.

What if water is not our only public policy blind spot? Could we act today to end another devastating drought before it takes its toll?

I’m speaking of the shortfall of bachelor’s degrees projected by the Public Policy Institute of California among other think tanks. The experts at PPIC say that if California continues on the current glide path, we will be short 1.1 million earned bachelor’s degrees by 2030.

1.1 million bachelor’s degrees short of what a vibrant California economy requires. That is our next drought. A drought of talented citizens who are armed with the applied knowledge and analytical soft skills that sustain economic growth.

And before dismissing 2030 as this distant future, consider this… those first-graders attending Kratt Elementary School over on West Sierra Avenue are already working toward their bachelor’s degree in 2030.

While this may be the future’s problem, it is today’s issue. While it may not be our fault, it is our problem to solve.

Like the current drought, the new drought we face in the coming decades will leave entire regions and communities dry. It will drive major companies out of California and small family operations out of business. And it will leave one of the most creative, innovative and entrepreneurial states of our nation dry and barren.

Perhaps we should put up our own sign along the interstate 5 and California 99:

Economies Grow where Education Flows. Social Mobility Grows where Education Flows.

Optimism Requires Action

My intention is not to be a modern-day Nostradamus. I am not predicting the end of California as we know it. In fact, I consider myself a hopeless optimist. But optimism requires action.

Addressing the bachelor’s degree drought is not impossible.

Here is how we do it – three steps:

  • First, the State of California needs to ensure that students who start in pre-school or kindergarten have a continuous pipeline to a bachelor’s degree.
    • Today, we have a pipeline that is wide at the beginning and gets increasingly narrow as students approach the university.
    • The system of funding we currently use is best described as dysfunctional. Dollars are guaranteed for K through 14… but bachelor’s degrees are earned at a university.
    • And the state’s two public university systems must compete with every other priority program for so-called discretionary dollars in the state’s general fund.
    • The result is systems of mismatched sizes… with more demand for university seats than supply… students get stuck and forgotten.
  • Second, the CSU, UC, community colleges and K through 12 schools must work together to seal the leaks in the educational pipeline.
    • College preparation must be our mission starting from pre-school and kindergarten. There is a certain symmetry in this for the CSU, as the majority of the state’s teachers are educated on our campuses. It is therefore equally our responsibility, alongside school and college partners, to make sure that the teachers who earn their credentials are ready to meet the needs of today’s students in today’s classrooms.
    • You just heard a demonstration of how we are working together in the previous panel. It is tremendous to see the work being done between systems across the state. This push is embraced at a leadership level and also among the faculty – who are forming their own educational, research and community engagement partnerships with peers.
    • And, on top of all of this, we are building on big statewide successes like the Associate Degree for Transfer from community colleges into a four-year.
  • Third and finally, the CSU needs to be better at clearing obstructions in that last mile of piping.
    • The CSU mantra must be student and alumni success. The CSU and the state will fail if we simply open the flood gates without the necessary courses, advising, services and applied learning opportunities.
    • The CSU is currently in the midst of Graduation Initiative 2025, which aims to empower additional students to earn their degrees – among nearly a million total graduates over the next ten years.
    • We will empower students through a relentless focus on quality and excellence… through proven best practices in education and technology… and through innovation and experimentation – with its inherent risks of failure, because failure and success leads to learning and improvement.
    • Perhaps the most important element of the Graduation Initiative is the commitment to narrow achievement gaps for students from underserved and economically-disadvantaged communities.
    • California cannot succeed as a state if we fail to educate communities of color in the San Joaquin Valley.

The goals of the Graduation Initiative are already a tremendous lift… demanding the very best of CSU faculty, staff and our students.

Yet, where the CSU goal has nearly a million students on pace to earn a bachelor’s in ten years, the PPIC report would require two million CSU students to complete their bachelor’s in fifteen years. An additional five years, an additional million graduates.

Avoiding the bachelor’s degree drought in 2030 is difficult… but if we summon the will it becomes inevitable.

The only way you get to the goal of 2 million CSU bachelor’s degrees earned by 2030, while continuing to be a quality university, is to realize the three legs of the stool:

  • A strong commitment to stable and strong funding from the state… no long this YoYo
  • A strong partnership across the educational continuum on college preparation and readiness
  • And a strong push from the CSU to ensure every student has the tools needed to succeed

That is how you solve a drought – a massive commitment from everyone involved to work together… but the first step is acknowledging the drought exists.

Bringing it Home

Unfortunately, the way you know that you are in a drought is from the profound effects that disrupt families and communities.

Last year, a Fresno State alumnus, Joe Del Bosque, hosted President Obama on his farm. Joe was underscoring the role of policymakers in the drought and the impact of water shortages on his business.

He is quoted as saying:

There are a lot of people out there, and farming is what they’ve done all their lives. It would be a shame for them to go out of business simply because there’s no water, especially since the farming economy is doing very well. It would be terrible to go broke when the markets are very good.

But that is what a drought does… it renders other market conditions mute. It does not matter what other promising conditions exist. If you are missing a key factor, then everything else goes to waste. This is true of water and it is true of education.

Let me further connect the two droughts by saying something that may be a bit controversial… but I trust you to understand this in the context it is meant…

Neither the expected torrential rains of the pending El Niño nor the State Water Project will solve the water shortage… the drought that is destroying century-old farms in this region… not entirely. But education will solve it.

Californians who are trained as engineers, life sciences and humanities will solve the immediate crisis and continue to develop solutions long into the future… solutions for challenges and opportunities we haven’t even thought of yet.

This brings me to the story of another Fresno State alumnus, Armando Guzman. Armando is one of six boys born to Mexican immigrants. His interest in agriculture began in middle school, as he and his dad did landscaping work.

This extraordinary student wasn’t handed success, but he was determined… and never let distractions get in his way. He graduated as salutatorian from Tulare Western High School before coming to Fresno State.

While at Fresno State, Armando engaged in a variety of research projects and assisted other students with additional studies related to weed science. He co-authored a study and presented in various conferences across the state and country.

He earned his bachelor’s in Plant Science – and was recognized as the 2015 Outstanding Undergraduate of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

His immediate goal is to become a licensed pest control and certified crop adviser. And he is considering pursuing a master’s at Fresno State after gaining experience in the industry.

Armando is joined by graduate students Lilian Rubi and Gurleen Kaur of Cal State Bakersfield who just completed a water conservation audit of their campus.

And by Felisha Walls of Stanislaus State – who earned her science master’s degree in Ecology and Sustainability with a thesis that tackled water quality assessment methods. 

Armando, Lilian, Gurleen and Felisha will take their rightful place among the nearly 300,000 alumni of the Fresno, Bakersfield and Stanislaus campuses in shaping the future of this region.

And it is our job to make sure that those first-grade students attending Kratt Elementary School also have the ability to succeed fifteen years from now.

Their opportunities should not run dry due to the droughts of our making.

Let me close by saying this as a proud alumnus of Fresno State …

No region of California has greater need for education – and for more graduates like Armando, Lilian, Gurleen and Felisha – than the San Joaquin Valley.

And no other region of this state will receive a greater return for the time, energy and resources invested in their future.

My thanks to all of you for advancing California’s future as partners and advocates for the work of the California State University. It is a tremendous privilege to be back at my alma mater – reminds me of some of the mischief I got into in the days before YouTube.

And it is a privilege and honor to see the educational pipeline being built here in the San Joaquin Valley.