CSU Graduation Initiative 2025

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
CSU Graduation Initiative 2025
Executive Leadership Summit
Long Beach, CA
October 15, 2014

Thank you for joining us, and for giving a full day to the most important work of the California State University, educating our students and giving them every possible opportunity to succeed in earning their degree and in their lives after college.

We all know the statistic from the Public Policy Institute of California. This state will be short one million or more college graduates by the year 2025. That is a hole of one million people in the fabric of California’s economy and society.

The California State University has an obligation to help fill that void. It is our academic obligation. It is our public obligation. And it is our moral obligation. And what a wonderful opportunity!

I’m not forgetting the obligation of elected state leaders. Part of solving this challenge absolutely rests with our partners in Sacramento, who have been less-than-reliable. The state must step up in providing predictable and sufficient resources for programs and infrastructure.

Yet, we cannot ignore our own part in solving this challenge. And we cannot ignore the opportunity that comes with implementing best practices that are shown to enhance student success… while advancing and evaluating new practices.

The Graduation Initiative is OUR initiative.

The faculty, staff, administration and students of the California State University own it.

We own it because no one else will or can. No other university has the reach we do. No other university serves the students we do. And no other university is as integral to the social fabric.
Close to 50 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans in California – and more than 60 percent of those earned by Latinos – are from a Cal State campus.

  • A third of new undergraduates are first generation.
  • And half are Pell-eligible, or low-income.

I know for many of your campuses those numbers are even higher.

Last Friday, I met with the business community in the Inland Empire and shared the figures for Cal State San Bernardino – where two-thirds of students come from a low-income background and an astonishing 77 percent of graduates are the first in their families to attend college.

We cannot turn our back on these students. We must succeed in increasing our graduation rates and closing the achievement gap without blocking the opportunity for those in our society who are most vulnerable.

Indeed, the California State University is the bridge between opportunity and success. And the structure of that bridge is comprised of quality programs and services.

As we reflect on the information and tools presented today, I want us to keep these three stages at the front of mind: taking students from broad opportunity; through a quality education experience; and on to success.

Success defined in those readily measured categories of retention, degree attainment and job placement… but also success in those more abstract categories of preparation for a lifetime of career and personal achievement.

Those latter abstract categories include multicultural competency, team working, critical thinking and problem solving… skills that come from educational breadth and applied learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

This means giving students authentic scientific and societal problems to solve in multicultural settings.

Indeed, one of the things I appreciate most about undergraduate involvement in research is that it teaches a critical soft skill – the ability to handle ambiguity in the data.

Just consider for a moment how often we face ambiguity in our daily lives. How often the same data is used as the basis for two competing arguments.

This is the world we live in, and this is the world we must prepare our students for.

I do not suggest that our task is an easy one. Simple problems are rarely left unsolved for long. It is the complex, multidimensional and intransigent problems that persist.

We must be even more persistent in our efforts.

With that introduction, I am going to take a few minutes to share updates on where we are and where we are going. You will also hear the national perspective, before we turn our attention to the task at hand, setting our student success goals for the next ten years.

But before we get to that, a quick look backward.  This initiative began in 2009, with a meeting a little like this one, except that it included only presidents and provosts.  By a show of hands, who in this room attended that meeting?

Who came into your present job since then?

It is unusual in this line of work this to see a project last for more than a couple years, let alone to continue over six years, through successive changes in leadership, and then on into another decade.

For that, some appreciation goes to Executive Vice Chancellor Ephraim Smith, his predecessor Jeri Echeverria, and the Chancellor’s Office team here:  Jeff Gold, Ken O’Donnell, and Robyn Pennington, who will continue to work with you and your campus in the next phase of this project. Equal appreciation goes to each of you for the thoughtful work that will help us meet California’s needs.

But it also makes intuitive sense that the Graduation Initiative would be unusually durable – this is the California State University, and this is what we were created to do: bring high-quality degree programs within reach of an astonishing number of Californians, and then do everything we can to help them succeed.

Some of that help has been informed over the years by advice from national experts, such as our next speaker.

Kati Haycock founded the Education Trust to promote educational access and quality, in particular for the historically under-served. She believes in what we do. She routinely addresses national audiences on how we are doing as educators, and how we can do better.

And she has been a partner to the CSU Graduation Initiative since the very beginning. Please join me in welcoming Kati.