Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White – July 7, 2020

Chancellor, The California State University
House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment
Oral Testimony (as delivered)
July 7, 2020

Chair Davis, Ranking Member Smucker and members of the subcommittee, thank you for providing me the opportunity to address you today.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the California State University, we are the nation's largest and most diverse four-year university system, with 23 campuses, more than 480,000 students and approximately 53,000 faculty and staff. One out of every 20 Americans with a college degree is a graduate of the California State University.

More than half of our students are students of color, and one in three are the first in their family to attend college. Fifty-four percent of our enrolled students – 230,000 of them – are Pell Grant recipients, and just last year alone 63,000 of those Pell recipients earned their bachelor's degree. This dynamic diversity – together with our sheer size and the quality of our academic programs – makes us one of America's most powerful drivers of socioeco​nomic ascent.

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been guided by twin North Stars: safeguarding the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the communities we serve; and maintaining our students' progress to degree.

In March, the CSU made the massive pivot to virtual instruction, transitioning over 70,000 classes – together with academic and student support services – to virtual modalities.

We've taken great care to mitigate the pandemic's impacts to our students, especially our most vulnerable. Measures include:

  • Maintaining on-campus housing and essential services for students who had nowhere else to call home;
  • Distributing thousands of laptops and tablets, and offering safe wifi hotspots, to help address the “digital divide";
  • Continuing to meet our students' basic needs, with no-contact food distribution and emergency housing services for students who are food and housing insecure. Campus counseling services are offered virtually, serving students presenting with a variety of mental health issues during the crisis; and
  • Providing necessary flexibility around academic policies for current students, and adjusting admission policies to mitigate hardships to prospective students and their families.

We are extremely grateful for the more than $563 million in financial relief provided to our students and campuses through the CARES Act. Because Education Department guidance limited eligibility for CARES Act emergency grants, we've augmented those funds with campus resources so that all of our students in need due to COVID-19 – including DACA students and international students – could receive much-needed financial emergency support.

Informed by the guidance of scientific and medical experts, along with public health officials, we are planning for a primarily virtual fall, with exceptions for critical in-person experiences that can be conducted within rigorous standards of health and safety.

And as we plan for the fall and beyond, the CSU confronts a grim new fiscal reality. Our campuses face soaring costs and mounting revenue losses associated with the pandemic, putting our students' well-being and success at significant risk. The recently passed California budget cuts our appropriation by $299 million – 4.2 percent of our operating budget – unless additional federal relief funds are forthcoming.

So I ask for additional support and investment during this historic public health crisis. I do so on behalf of the nation's largest and most diverse student body. Keeping these students – students from all walks of life – enrolled and graduating with a high-quality degree not only benefits them, their families and communities, it is also a vital public good for the nation.

Supporting higher education at this critical moment stimulates employment for hundreds of thousands of Americans now and into the future, spurring tax revenue while reducing reliance on social services.

America – through the economic recovery and beyond – will require an increasingly nimble, educated workforce. We need culturally competent problem solvers, comfortable and capable in the sciences and technology – climate literate and inspired to lead the world to a sustainable future. We need them to ensure a vigorous American economy in a changing world of work. And we need them for a vibrant and more equitable society.

We stand ready to be a resource as you continue to explore ways to support higher education.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you today. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.