Remarks by Timothy P. White (as prepared)
Chancellor, The California State University
Graduation Initiative 2025 Symposium
October 17, 2019
Good afternoon and thank you, James.
I want to recognize that we have a quorum of the Board of Trustees here today. The vice chair of our board is Lillian Kimbell. We have Doug Faigin, and Debra Farar, Wenda Fong, Romey Sabalius, Juan Fernando Garcia, Jane Carney, Maryana Khames, and Jack McGrory. They’re all present.
Chairman Adam Day sends his regrets, his regards and his gratitude to all of you.
Let me echo James in welcoming each of you to our fourth annual Graduation Initiative 2025 Symposium. These symposia are among the CSU’s most significant yearly convenings and among my favorite. They give those of you on the front lines of the most consequential student-success initiative in the university’s history an opportunity to gather with your colleagues from across the system, to reflect on challenges and successes, to identify what’s working and where adjustments need to be made, and to share data and high-impact practices.
They also give me the opportunity to recognize the progress we have made. And indeed, that progress is remarkable. As James noted, graduation rates have improved across the board. Four-year rates and less-than-or-equal-to six-year graduation rates for freshmen and two- and less-than-or-equal-to four-year rates for community college transfer students are at all-time highs.
It’s easy enough to rattle off these statistical highlights, but let’s pause for just a moment and consider their impact in more concrete terms. For every percentage point of improvement we make across our four-year graduation rate metrics, we create additional enrollment capacity for around 2,500 students. That’s between 9 and 10 thousand additional open seats in course sections.
Your collective and coordinated effort to help all CSU students graduate in a more timely manner allowed us to award a record 107,319 bachelor’s degrees in 2019. That’s over 20,000 more than in 2015, the year before the initiative was launched.
Twenty thousand more degrees. If you were to have these graduates join hands, they’d form a line more than 21 miles long. That’s long enough to reach from this podium to the Sacramento airport and back. Please, just take a moment to visualize that. Cal State grads as far as the eye can see. Now imagine the collective impact these graduates can – and will – have on our communities, our state and our nation. That is consequential.
And as these students graduate with a quality degree more quickly, they receive an objective financial benefit. In fact, first-time students graduating just one term earlier receive an immediate economic gain of more than $13,000 through cost avoidance.
The progress we’ve made is impressive, its impact vital and tangible. I congratulate all of you – those in this room and those watching via livestream back at our 23 campuses across California – for your skilled and dedicated work. I could not be more pleased nor more grateful with your demonstrated commitment on behalf of Cal State’s students: past, present and future.
But even as we celebrate our progress, we acknowledge that there is much more work to be done.
As we knew they would be, the equity gaps are stubborn. As James noted earlier, after seeing the systemwide gaps narrow last year, they have held steady this year, although individual campuses across the system continue to make significant progress.
This is to be expected. We’ve always known we wouldn’t follow a perfectly linear success path toward our goals.
And we must remember that the progress I highlighted a moment ago has been to the benefit of all Cal State students – graduation rate improvements for students of color and Pell students have tracked those of their peers.
But that is not our goal. That is not our great calling.
We are the most ethnically and economically diverse university in the nation at a time when a college degree has never been more necessary for a secure and prosperous future. And now, the most diverse generation in our country’s history is turning to us for that degree for the key to that brighter future. Our moral imperative has never been more clear. It’s never been more critical. We must ensure true equity of opportunity for all, regardless of income, background, gender, race, ethnicity or status.
And equity can no longer be limited to access, to getting in. Equity must be evaluated via genuine, authentic, access and success in courses, labs, studies, clinics, fields and community. But really, the litmus test for equity must be judged on degree completion and what that degree completion means for their career.
Eliminating equity gaps for students from historically underserved communities, while simultaneously raising success measures for all – it’s an admittedly ambitious goal. Indeed, it is the challenge for our time.
But let me speak plainly, it is within our reach.
We are making significant progress. And much of the work we’ve already put in – including improved advising models and initiatives to increase the number of units our students take – will pay future dividends. Executive Order 1110 shows promise to be a game-changer in terms of equity gaps when those first cohorts graduate in 2022.
So move forward with confidence and with redoubled effort.
And let’s start here, today, at this symposium. Squeeze every drop out of it. Seek out colleagues. Engage deeply with them – and with the program’s content. I encourage you to leave this convening with three new student success measures you can implement immediately upon returning to your campus. And I ask you to leave this symposium with a heightened intentionality of effort.
The fall 2019 cohort that just landed is, of course, no more important than the students they precede or follow. But they represent a critical moment for the CSU. This group of students is the first cohort that will determine whether we reach our goals for less-than-or-equal-to six-year graduation rates and equity gaps. And they arrive on our campuses as our positive momentum continues to build and as the state and foundations demonstrate their belief in us, investing boldly in our mission. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Let’s seize this moment, with a new unity of purpose.
We’ve been preparing for this moment for years.
And the time is now.