​​​​When Chancellor Timothy P. White recently addressed the California Chamber of Commerce board of directors about the state of the CSU, he alluded to the devastating water drought facing California and explained that another major drought has the potential of wreaking further havoc on the economy.

Speaking to the leading businessmen about the subject closest to their hearts – California business – Dr. White said a drive through the farmlands of central California is a glaring reminder that the water drought is real. “Shades of green have given way to shades of brown,” he said, “and once verdant fields are acres of cracked earth. Sitting among one of these dry fields is a farm trailer on which a banner reads ‘Food Grows where Water Flows’.” 

He added that the water drought crisis could have been avoided if expansion of residential, commercial and agricultural demands did not breach the limits of existing water resources, if critical investments had been made in the state’s infrastructure, use reduction, recycling and transportation, and if extreme weather cycles caused by global climate change were not ignored.

“Now we are left with draconian steps to correct our mistakes,” he said, asking: “What if water is not our only public policy blindspot? Could we act today to end another devastating drought – one of bachelor’s degrees – before it takes its toll on business, manufacturing and innovation?”

Citing Public Policy Institute of California statistics, Dr. White said:

“We will be short 1.1 million earned bachelor’s degrees by 2030 which is 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 the effects of this degree drought already are evident in our state’s economy today.

“This is certainly not an indictment of the CSU, the UC, community colleges or K through 12… although it is our shared responsibility. This is, however, an indictment of California’s funding priorities over the last few decades. The state has tended to use a short-term approach toward solving budget shortfalls by stripping public higher education’s ability to look toward the horizon and develop the human resources and educational capacity needed to meet the needs of California’s future – a future that is rapidly approaching.

“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,” he said.

“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 stubborn optimist. But optimism requires action,” he said, “and addressing the bachelor’s degree drought is not impossible.”

Dr. White, who introduced the next phase of CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2015 earlier this year, said there are three steps the state can take to help increase graduation levels:

“First, the State of California must ensure that students who start in pre-school or kindergarten have a continuous pipeline to a bachelor’s degree.” He referred specifically to the funding pipeline which is wider at the beginning and increasing narrow as students prepare to enter higher education.

“Second, the CSU, UC, community colleges and K through 12 schools must work together to seal the leaks in the educational pipeline.” He said the college preparation mission must start at the pre-school or kindergarten level and continue to the teacher credential programs, noting that more than half of all teachers working in California K-12 schools are CSU graduates. Also important are partnership development with local governments, school districts, religious organizations and other stakeholders to create and expand “College Promise” programs, such as those in San Francisco, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Bernardino.

“Third and finally, the CSU must be better at clearing obstructions in that last mile of piping. The CSU and the state will fail if we simply open the flood gates without the necessary courses, advising, services and applied learning opportunities. Our mantra must be student and alumni success.”

Dr. White told the Cal Chamber Board that the Graduation Initiative 2025 has a goal of awarding nearly one million bachelor’s degrees over the next 10 years and outlined how it can be achieved:

“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 well-examined failure and success leads to learning and improvement.

And “we are committed to narrowing achievement gaps for students from underserved and economically disadvantaged communities.”

Dr. White emphasized the word “commitment” as he urged the state to create a stable and strong funding model and abandon a “yo-yoing of funding that rises and falls with each passing cycle. There must be a strong commitment across the educational continuum, along with our business and community partners, on college preparation and readiness, and 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,” he added. “But the first step is acknowledging the drought exists.”

He concluded his remarks by suggesting that solving the water drought could be achieved by solving the bachelor’s degree drought.

“Californians who are trained in engineering, life sciences and the 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.”