Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
Education Writers Association National Seminar
Plenary Session
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Los Angeles, CA

Thank you, Kit (Lively, from the Dallas Morning News).

It is good to work with you again. I have known Kit from my former job as the Chancellor in Florida when she was at the Orlando Sentinel, and then at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Now she's at the Dallas Morning News.

I am pleased to be on a panel with Tom (Meredith) who I know shares a passion for getting students ready for college. And to meet Gordon (Hodge) who can give us a national perspective.

Working with the Media:

When you are in a room full of reporters, it is good to see some friendly faces out there…really. I see Richard Whitmire from USA Today, for example. Before we get to the topic of college readiness that I am going to talk about, let me give you my philosophy when dealing with the media. It is to be accessible, open and honest, period.

Those of you here who have worked with me know that to be the case. It hasn't always been pleasant, reading or hearing things sometimes, but if I say it, it is always on the record, and I take responsibility for it.

With that said, let's get to the topic at hand.

Since becoming Chancellor of the California State University nearly 10 years ago, I have said something so many times that people might tired of hearing it, except for our communications people, who like consistent messages.

That is: When the public schools get better, the California State University gets better.

It is pretty simple to say but often hard to do.

  • The CSU takes 85 percent of its new freshmen from the public schools.
  • Those public schools range from the very best to the very poor.
  • We take students from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, to the state's small rural schools.
  • They come with varying academic skills, no matter the school they attended.

California Master Plan for Higher Education:

  • The CSU takes the top 33 percent of high school graduates
  • The University of California takes the top one-eighth
  • All other students qualify for the state's community colleges

CSU Profile:

  • We are the 21st Century University
  • Largest and most diverse four-year university system in the country
  • 46,000 faculty and staff
  • 435,000 students
  • 23 campuses spanning the 1,000-mile coastline and valleys of California.

CSU Student Profile:

  • Not the traditional 18- to 22-year-olds
  • Average undergraduate age is 24
  • 85 percent are commuters
  • 44 percent are independent from their parents
  • Nearly two in five have dependents
  • Four out of five have jobs, and 36 percent work full time
  • About one in five is in the first generation in their family to attend college
  • 40 percent come from households where English is not the main language spoken
  • 55 percent are students of color.

It is the last group, our students of color, who I want to primarily focus on for this discussion.

We have to come down from our ivory towers and take our mission out to the people where they live.

That mission is (1) getting students ready for college, (2) getting them into college, (3) graduating them and (4) getting them into the workforce.

We cannot expect students just to come to us if we do not reach out to them in places such as their neighborhoods, their communities and their churches.

Parents sometimes have no idea what it takes to get their children into college, especially if English is not their first language.

Sometimes, even our teachers do not know what all are requirements are, so we need an education campaign if we are going to get students ready for college.

We also much work much closer with our K-12 colleagues, and I will give you an example of what the CSU is doing with the state's high schools.

But first let me mention some of our outreach efforts. What we are doing is getting out of our comfort zones.

Super Sundays:

Research shows that churches are key components of the black community, so that's where we went rather than waiting for parents and students to come to us.

On two Sundays in February in San Francisco/East Bay area and the greater Los Angeles area, CSU presidents, trustees and others took the message to the pulpits that college is possible and that it can make a significant difference in a young person's life.

We were at West Angeles Church and the First AME Church whose parishioners are such well-known African Americans as Magic Johnson, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Snoop Dogg.

We reached 40,000 African-American community members through these events.

Did last year and reached thousands then. We will keep doing this and assist the ministers and coaches.

Community Outreach Forums:

We have also held meetings across the state with leaders from Latino, Native American, Vietnamese communities and other ethnic groups to hear from them what we can do better to reach out to them and their children.

"Steps to College" Poster:

  • At all these events we pass out our poster, which you have been given.
  • They are in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese.
  • Spell out what middle and high school students, grade by grade, need to do to prepare for college.
  • A simple way to reach parents, especially those who have not had the benefit of college and do not know where to begin.
  • Have deadlines and instructions for applying for financial aid.
  • Distribute 1 million posters each year.
  • They can be downloaded at our website: www.calstate.edu/college.

Another outreach effort is with our Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) and founder Vahac Mardirosian:

  • Parents are a strength in the Latino community, so again, as with the black community, we work with them
  • During the nine-week PIQE program, parents learn how to improve their child's performance in the classroom and identify steps to help their child attend college
  • At the end, parents are given a "graduation certificate" and their children are given an identification card that guarantees them admission to a CSU campus if they meet the requirements
  • 7,000 mothers graduated last year
  • The Chancellor's Office gave each campus a $25,000 matching grant to implement this program for the past two years.

Let me now get to the heart of what we are doing to help with college readiness in the schools.

We are having some good results so far with the numbers of students of color applying to the CSU: 12.5 percent African American; 15 percent Latino; and 12 percent Asian. But we have to keep working at this.

Early Assessment Program:

  • California requires students to take the California Standards Test.
  • Because so many students were coming to us needing remedial education in math and English - even when they are in the top-third of their high schools - we augmented the mandatory test with English and math questions developed by our faculty.
  • We did this to provide 11th graders an opportunity to assess their college readiness in English and math.
  • With this "early signal," they can spend their senior year in high school - often a wasted year - filling academic gaps so that when they go to college, they are ready for college.
  • We established special math and English web sites, www.csumathsuccess.org and www.csuenglishsuccess.org, to help students and teachers with these subjects.

In spring 2006 (the third year of the augmented voluntary test), 134,000 (72 percent) of all eligible high school juniors took the mathematics EAP test, with slightly more than 55 percent scored as proficient for college level mathematics.

15,000 more students volunteered to take the math test in 2006 than in 2005, a good sign that shows we are making progress getting the word out about the test.

158,000 (38 percent) of eligible high school juniors completed the English part. Of these students, 25 percent were proficient. This is of great concern, and an area we are concentrating on with our K-12 colleagues.

The San Jose Mercury News praised the CSU for our efforts, saying in a March 2007 editorial, "To the credit of the (CSU) chancellor's office, it has developed a program no other public university system has tried…. School districts could help out by requiring that all juniors take CSU's test and by adding the expository English course to their curricula."

We also want the test to be mandatory, so that all juniors know where they stand. We will work toward this goal.

USA Today, thanks to Richard's editorial writing, has also given credit to the CSU for our early testing when he wrote about combining high school exams with college admissions tests. He called the CSU "a pioneer" and mentioned how students who pass then do not have to take our placements tests. And added, "Those who stumble get early warnings."

That is exactly what we are doing - reaching down into the schools, working with teachers and students so that students are ready for college.

Because if they are not, where is our country's future workforce and what will it look like?

  • Pat Callan's study.

In summary:

Universities must work together with our K-12 colleagues if students are going to be ready for college.

If other states want to do what we have done, a piece of advice is don't just go in and tell them what to do - our faculty and their faculty must work together on this critical issue.

  • We need to eliminate the often-high barriers that exist for cooperation and keep our eye on one thing: students.
  • The CSU wants to make sure that all California students have access to a college prep curriculum so they all can work toward college.
  • We were very strong supporters of the successful effort to adopt an A-G curriculum at the Los Angeles Unified School District for all students.
  • We need all districts to adopt those standards
  • We need rigor back in the K-12 curriculum
  • Need to align expectations and standards
  • We cannot do business the way it worked in the past.
  • It is a different day with different populations with different needs.
  • It is imperative that we reach all our student populations but especially our underserved populations because they are the future face of our country, just as those waves of European immigrants were centuries ago.
  • As university leaders, we must assume more of "bully pulpit" role on these issues that affect all of us.

Even though we are all busy with the traditional issues we deal with - budgets, fundraising, curricular matters, etc - we must take time to work on the great challenge of college readiness.

If we wait too long it will be too late for our country.

It is going to be a challenge for educators, but it's a responsibility that everyone - community leaders, businesses, churches and elected officials - will all have to share. Our communities and our economy are depending on us, and I hope we can measure up to that challenge.

Thank you.

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