U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Washington, D.C.
May 29, 2015

Thank you, Chair Castro, commissioners and staff for the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Timothy White and I am the Chancellor of the California State University.

The CSU is a public university system comprised of 23 campuses, 460,000 students, 47,000 faculty and staff, and this year, we’re celebrating 3 million living alumni.

We are one of the largest and most diverse university systems in the country.

I am honored to be before you this morning to discuss the work the CSU does to:

  • Expand access to a quality education;
  • Provide the tools students need to excel and to graduate; and
  • Carry out our public mission for the good of all Californians and Americans.

Education has a unique role as either a gateway – or in its absence a barrier – to social mobility, economic prosperity and civic engagement and responsibility.

Therefore, equitable access to quality education is an important issue in the advancement of civil rights.

The CSU was born of the idea that a high quality education should be accessible to all who are willing and able to do the work…

This idea was – and still is – revolutionary.

California’s public higher education system remains a model for many colleges and universities around the country and the world.

By creating multiple points of entry – for high school graduates, transfer students, returning adults and advanced professionals – California’s public colleges and universities are meeting the needs of the modern student.

In fact, you can see the public mission of the CSU reflected in our student population.

Half of our students earning undergraduate degrees receive Pell awards… and a third are among the first in their family to attend college.

Many students commute from their childhood homes … and the majority work to help cover school and family expenses.

Students of color now make up nearly two thirds of our degree-seeking undergraduate population…

And more than half of all bachelor’s degrees earned annually by California’s Latino students – which is the state’s largest demographic group – are earned at the CSU.

Expanding access to historically underserved students is central. Access is only part of it.  It is getting students to complete a high-quality degree and flourish thereafter that is our true goal.

The first, and often the most daunting barrier to degree completion, is college readiness.

The CSU has embraced several approaches to empower students who need additional preparation to be successful in the university environment.

These steps include partnering with K-12 and community colleges to help students develop university-level skillsets… while also forging clear degree pathways between the systems.

We know that for many, the near-term goal of high school or community college education is receiving that university acceptance letter…

Yet, we as a university must look out to the farther horizon. Acceptance to a CSU must come with a plan… a plan of support with the will and abilities and resources needed to carry out that plan.

This is why the CSU launched Graduation Initiative 2025… an ambitious effort to raise four and six-year completion rates – while narrowing persistent attainment gaps for historically-underserved and low-income student populations.

The core principle of this initiative is that all students should have the opportunity to succeed… regardless of the neighborhood they grew up in, the schools they attended, their parents’ educational level or their family income level.

Serving the modern student means confronting the full range of barriers they face.

Yet, I am here to tell you that these barriers can and will be overcome… CSU students, faculty and staff are already leading the way.

We are working to bring individualized learning to scale in a massive system of nearly half-a-million students... and this bold action requires a combination of resources from the university, from the state and from the federal government.

University and state efforts have also kept CSU tuition and fees down for students and their families… at an average of just $6,759 for California’s full-time undergraduates. And it has been at that constant rate for four years.

Roughly half of our students graduate with no student loan debt, and those who do borrow do so at levels well below the national average. 

Modest increases in federal financial aid investment – combined with strategic reallocation of existing resources – could help ensure that CSU students continue to have the resources they need to be successful.

For example – as detailed in my written statement – campus-based aid funds are currently being allocated inequitably.

Outdated formulas mean that the existing dollars disproportionately go to a few students at high-cost institutions. This is a policy area that lawmakers can – and in our judgment – should address.

Likewise, the TRIO and Gear Up framework could be strengthened by strategically investing in transitional programs like Summer Bridge… focusing more attention on preparation in the STEM disciplines… and expanding Veterans Upward Bound.

These suggestions are modest… yet they are important and they are achievable.

The combination of federal, state and university efforts help students stick through the early phases of an undergraduate education… often the timeframe of highest attrition.

These coordinated efforts are of tremendous benefit to underserved populations… and begin to address the civil rights ramifications of unequal access and unequal support to degree.

And the entire American public shares in the benefit of better access and success… through a stronger global economic position and a stronger society.

We are all in this together. For me it is professional, but also intensely personal…

I, like Chair Castro and Commissioner Achtenberg, and so many others, are first-generation. As an immigrant from Argentina, I was low-income. My high school, like yours, did not encourage me to consider college.

Yet, I attended a California Community College, two of the California State University campuses, the University of California, Berkeley and did a post-doctoral degree at the University of Michigan.

Well, here I am.

I’m proud to have had the opportunity through public higher education to be lifted and launched into an interesting and consequential life. And part of my support came from the federal government through what was then called the National Defense Student Loan.

Thank you very much.