Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - June 9, 2021

CSU San Marcos Social Mobility Symposium
Chancellor Castro's Keynote (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
June 9, 2021

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, President Neufeldt, and many thanks to you and Dr. Broderick for providing the opportunity to meet with all of you.

We are certainly among experts as we discuss the topic of social mobility. Thanks to many of you here today, CSU San Marcos is ranked 28th nationally out of nearly 1,500 colleges and universities in the CollegeNet Social Mobility Index, which measures the extent to which a university delivers economically disadvantaged students into good-paying jobs.

And as many of you know, President Neufeldt is nationally known for helping to establish the Center for Social Mobility at her previous campus, Old Dominion University, where Dr. Broderick and his team ably carry on its work. This vital research center continues to inform and inspire institutions across the country, including here within the California State University, where elevating our students and their families is both a duty and a privilege.

As the largest, most diverse and most consequential four-year public university in the country, the CSU is proud to be one of our nation's greatest drivers of socioeconomic ascent. It is our highest mission to afford students of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, abilities, identities and orientations the opportunity to earn the lifelong benefits of a high-quality college degree.

And our mission has never been more essential.

We have all witnessed the disparate and devastating impact that this year of pandemic, injustice, hate, economic uncertainty and violence has had on our most vulnerable communities and it has brought to light an even greater need for us to root out longstanding and systemic inequities.

And now – as we begin to rebuild and reimagine – it will take continued leadership, innovation and commitment to equity and collaboration at every level of our institutions to make sure we are preparing all students to power our nation's recovery and take part in its future prosperity.

This work will forever be a priority of mine because of my own family's lived experience.

I am the grandson of a Dreamer from Michoacán, Mexico, whose father – my great grandfather – had come to the United States almost a century ago to help build the railroad. My grandparents were farmworkers. Together with my single mother they raised me, working hard to give me the opportunities they didn't have.

I was the first in my family to go to college, attending UC Berkeley as part of a program that recruited students from the Central Valley and from modest financial means.

Thanks to this opportunity and the example set by my mother and grandparents I've had the privilege of dedicating my life to working hard and serving others to breaking the cycle of poverty for California families like my own and to transforming lives and communities through the power of higher education.

Today, it is my greatest professional honor to lead a team of 56,000 faculty and staff, serving nearly 486,000 students on 23 campuses across the state of California. Nearly half of our students are students of color, half are eligible to receive the Pell Grant, and approximately one-third are first in their families to attend college.

We award more than 129,000 degrees annually, adding to our growing network of more than 4 million living alumni around the globe. Nearly half of the state's bachelor's degrees are awarded by the CSU, and one in 10 employees in California is a CSU graduate. In fact, one in 20 bachelor's degree holders nationally has a diploma from a CSU campus.

Access and support are key. While we maintain one of the lowest tuition rates in the country, 84 percent of CSU students receive financial aid and three-quarters of those students have the full cost of their tuition covered. In fact, most CSU students graduate with zero debt. Zero.

This unique combination of excellence and affordability has earned our campuses top rankings from national organizations for social mobility, best value, best bang for the buck and most transformative colleges.

I could go on and on reciting the well-earned accolades and points of pride of the CSU and its campuses – as you might imagine, it's one of my favorite topics. By I would be remiss if I didn't direct the credit where it's due. Our continued success results primarily from the drive and persistence of our diverse and talented students and from the skill, creativity and commitment of our world-class faculty and staff.

And today I would also like to call out three important and evolving initiatives designed to help more students, from all backgrounds, incomes and zip codes, earn the security, prosperity and purpose that come with a CSU degree.

By far the most impactful is Graduation Initiative 2025, the CSU's flagship student-success effort to close equity gaps and improve graduation rates. Since the initiative's inception in 2015, our 23 campuses have boldly taken on its audacious goals – investing resources, passion and creativity to support our students like never before. 

Campus efforts throughout our state have resulted in better course access for our students, fewer administrative barriers, a greater focus on student basic needs, advising, well-being and engagement, data analytics to target support where and when it'smostneeded and more effective and transparent measures of our progress.

Today, our student success rates are at all-time highs by every measure – and for students from every background. But even as we celebrate record-breaking numbers, equity gaps – between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers – remain.

Our campuses have doubled down on their commitment to close these gaps by sharing best practices across our system. And we'll certainly be looking to San Marcos, which has eliminated equity gaps in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color. Hats off to all of you!

At the same time, we must continue to employ creative strategies to ensure that all of our students, no matter their identity or background, feel a sense of belonging on campus.

To that end, increasing faculty and staff diversity is another of my top priorities. It remains extraordinarily important to me that our students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who deeply understand their lived experiences and who are uniquely able to inspire them toward new heights.

And finally, it is our duty to make sure CSU graduates are well-equipped to join California's economy, the 5th largest in the world to help all students reach their dreams and their full potential and to help California meet its projected demand for at least 1.3 million additional degree-holders through the year 2030 especially in the growing fields of nursing, public health, data science, cybersecurity and other STEM careers.

I am especially proud that our campuses continue to pursue – and win! – competitive grant funding to develop workforce pipeline programs to engage underrepresented students in solving our state's most pressing challenges. In recent years, for example, the CSU's 23 campuses competed for – and received – 100 million dollars in U.S. Department of Education grants, a million dollars from the Department of Agriculture, and 15 million dollars from the National Science Foundation, all designated specifically for Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

Preparing our students for high-demand careers produces an immediate and calculated payoff. According to The Campaign for College Opportunity, our graduates will earn a million dollars more through their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma. They are also far more likely to enjoy better health and far less likely to be unemployed.

Along with these rewards for our deserving graduates, the work of the CSU brings lasting benefits to all of us.

According to our most recent Economic Impact Study released this spring, for every dollar the state invests in the CSU, the university returns almost seven dollars in economic output. CSU alumni still active in California's workforce in 2019 earned an additional 70.6 billion dollars because of their CSU degree. With these alumni earnings factored in, the CSU's return on investment jumps to nearly 30 dollars for every dollar invested.

Beyond these staggering dollar amounts, according to a recent report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, degree holders are more likely to donate to charity, twice as likely to volunteer, and three times as likely to serve as school, community and religious leaders. Degree holders pay far more in taxes over a lifetime – but are far less likely to rely on public services. College graduates are twice as likely to launch a small business, they're far more likely to pursue professional advancement, and they hold 90 percent of U.S. patents. And the higher the education level, the higher the voting rate – in local, state and federal elections. Degree holders are far more willing to run for public office, contact their legislators, engage in grass roots movements and attend civic meetings, investing in and shaping our democracy.

And perhaps most important, college graduates are role models who lead the way for those who follow. 85 percent of children whose parents graduated from college will go on to attend themselves.

I'll close today with one stellar example: Luis Dominguez is a systems integration and test engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A child of immigrants who was raised in South Los Angeles, he always had a passion for science and a fascination with space, but never considered a career in the field a realistic goal – in fact, as a high schooler, he had no idea that JPL even existed, despite growing up less than 20 miles away.

It wasn't until he was in college – at Cal Poly Pomona – that he first learned about JPL. He applied and was accepted into an internship program – and has worked there ever since.

Luis and his team were responsible for testing and installing the electronics and software systems for Perseverance, the rover that is the centerpiece of the long-term robotic Mars exploration mission currently underway more than 180 million miles above the earth's surface.

Talk about social mobility. With his CSU degree, Luis' career took off like a rocket.

And today, he takes his role of inspiring future generations of diverse scientists, engineers and mathematicians as seriously as he does his work. And it's his reason why that resonates with me, and I quote, “It's because I 100-percent believe that genius is everywhere."

Genius. Is. Everywhere.

That's why we're here, and that's why it's imperative that we continue to work tirelessly to tap into the vast galaxy of talent among our students.

As educational institutions, we have the unique opportunity and privilege to create leaders who will inspire future generations of leaders.

And as we do, we are in the unique position to elevate not only individuals, but their families, our communities – our nation – through the power of higher education.

Again, thank you for inviting me today. I look forward to all that we can accomplish together in the years ahead.

I have purposely left time for a few questions, and I understand Dr. Patricia Prado-Olmos has graciously agreed to serve as our moderator his morning. Dr. Prado-Olmos?​