Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
George Washington University - New Directions Conference
Washington, DC
October 18, 2003

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak here today.

Some of you may have heard that we've had a little bit of a political shake-up in California. I think it might have made the national news once or twice…

Now we have a governor who's known as "The Terminator" or sometimes even "The Governator."

So will that be a good thing for education in California or not?

Well, there are still a lot of unknowns about the new administration. But I'll tell you why I am optimistic:

When he was on the campaign trail, Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about how he wanted to create a better business environment for California.

The reality is, you can't keep businesses in the state and you can't build a strong economy unless you have a good education system. You need a good K-12 system to have a good higher education system. And you need a good higher education system to prepare workers and keep businesses strong. No matter how you look at it, it is all part of a continuum.

And that is why I am especially glad to be speaking on this topic today.

This conference is focused on student success as a "lifelong journey." I believe that when we look at education as a continuous process, we can really start to make a difference.

Journey to GW

I thought the best way to begin talking about a lifelong journey in education would be to talk about my own experience or journey.

I have four degrees from GW. GW has been a remarkable place for me.

I grew up in Southwestern Pennsylvania in a coal mining town called Waynesburg. I had never been more than about 150 miles from home. In fact, the first time I ever really went anywhere was when I went to visit colleges, because I was being recruited for football.

That's how I ended up at GW. Yes, GW had a football team back then.

But it was the degrees I got from GW that prepared me for life.

GW's approach to education was not just an intellectual approach. It was practical, hands-on, and experiential.

The student body was incredibly rich in diversity. They came from all over the country and all over the world, and they shared their experiences.

Plus the faculty members had an amazing wealth of experience. Many of them had full-time jobs in the government, and they brought that real-world experience to the classroom - like Tony Cardinale from the Defense Department, and Sal Rinaldi, a leader in the State Department and the U.S. Office of Education.

When I got my doctorate at GW, the idea was not to prepare specialists who would box themselves in to one small area of expertise. They didn't want to prepare the kind of scholar who would know more and more about less and less - like knowing all there is to know about a fire ant.

The philosophy was to provide general education for lifelong learning so you could go wherever you wanted to go.

That was what prepared me best for a lifetime of public service.

Preparing Students for Success

Fast forward almost 40 years: I've been a professor, a state budget director, chief of staff to a governor, and chancellor in two of the largest states in the country. In fact, the California State University system is the largest university system in the country, with 23 campuses, 400,000 students, 47,000 employees and a $6.2 billion operating budget.

Through all of these experiences, I've had a lot of time to think about what it takes to prepare students to be successful in the 21st century.

One thing I know for sure is we have to start early. That means we have to start preparing people to be good parents. The years from birth to pre-K are critical in terms of brain development for a child. Young children need proper nutrition and adequate stimulation to begin to flourish. That's why we need to invest more in helping parents help their children through this important stage of life. All of those early years should lay a solid foundation for a child to be able to read by the third grade.

These days, nearly everything is based on reading. Our country has made a major shift from a largely agricultural/manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. The people who have knowledge - which begins with the ability to read - will always have jobs.

That means that we also need to focus on providing quality education and preparation for students, especially in the public schools. And we need to bring back rigor to the public schools. The curriculum needs to be focused on the basic foundations of education: reading, writing, communications, mathematics, science, and now more than ever, foreign languages. And we need to continue to encourage students to read and write all the way through 12th grade.

College as a Necessity

Then we need to look at helping those students make their way to college.

College is no longer a luxury in our society, it is a necessity. We know, for instance, that a person with a bachelor's degree will earn nearly twice as much over a lifetime as a high school graduate - $2.1 million versus $1.2 million.

Before I got involved in higher education in California, it had never occurred to me that people didn't know what it took to go to college in terms of high school requirements and college prep courses.

But our population is rapidly growing and shifting. California is now a majority-minority state, and the rest of the country is moving in the same direction. Many of our students come from homes where the parents are not from this country and do not speak English. Plus, many of our students are the first in their families to attend college. These students often need assistance in making sure they get the right classes in high school, filling out applications, and filling out financial aid forms.

At the California State University, we knew there was a big need for this kind of assistance. So four years ago, we created a poster to distribute to every middle school and high school in the state. This poster spells out exactly what courses and tests a student needs to take to prepare for the California State University or the University of California.

Once we started printing these posters, the demand was overwhelming. Each year, we ran out of posters long before the calls stopped coming in.

But this year, we entered into a partnership with Boeing that will allow us to print another 500,000 copies in English and Spanish.

So that's just one of the ways we can help students get to college.

Once they get to college, we need to make sure that they get the assistance they need to stay on track all the way through to graduation.

And we need to encourage the best students to become teachers. We need to provide them with the best possible preparation so that they can continue the cycle with the next generation of students.

No Child Left Behind

Lots of people have asked me about the implications of No Child Left Behind.

My fear is that it means millions of children will be left behind. The problem is that this administration wants to talk about it and test it, but they don't fund it.

I hope you had a chance to see a good article on this issue in the Washington Post on Monday. The article looked at the case of West Virginia, which has done everything it can to implement No Child Left Behind. Now they're struggling with the impact of Bush Administration tax breaks. And they're realizing that No Child Left Behind is, as Governor Wise put it, "a very significant unfunded mandate."

All around the country, our schools have so many under-funded needs, from facilities, to textbooks, to professional training.

And yet for it to be truly effective, No Child Left Behind should go even further. For instance, it should extend to federal financial aid. That would complete the educational continuum from pre-K all the way through college.

We know that education is the key to economic prosperity. Yet the U.S. is not truly focused on investing in its human capital.

Think about the $87 billion we are spending on Iraq - which was just approved on Thursday night. A few months ago, we didn't know we were going to have to spend that much. But somehow we came up with that amount when we needed it.

Now think about what that $87 billion could do for education in this country. It's mind-boggling to imagine what we would be able to do for teachers and their students with that much money.

We could begin to treat education as a lifelong process. We could ensure that all students would receive the preparation they needed to move to the next level.

If we really made the right connections throughout the system, we truly would leave no student behind. That would be a great vision for the future of education. And it would be a great vision for the future of our country.

I want to thank all of you for taking the time to come here today and focus on this topic. I look forward to hearing more about the discussions that come out of this conference.

Thank you very much.


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