Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - June 29, 2021

The College Futures Foundation Quarterly Board Meeting
Introductory Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
June 29, 2021

Thank you for that kind introduction, Monica, and good morning to all of you! It's always a pleasure to spend time with the College Futures Foundation and its wise, compassionate and dedicated leadership. Monica has been a dear friend of mine for many years, just as College Futures has been a longstanding and valued friend of the CSU.

Our time together today is far too limited for me to adequately express the scope of my gratitude and appreciation for your vital and generous support of our university, at both the systemwide and campus level. But let me give it a try.

You've helped the CSU expand access for talented and diverse students across the state. You have advanced student success and educational equity in all its dimensions. Your partnership has helped elevate individuals, families and communities – and its impact will span generations. Again, words fall short, so on behalf of the entire Cal State family, I will simply say “thank you."

I think it says something about my friendship with Monica and the CSU's relationship with the College Futures Foundation more broadly that last September 25th just three days after my appointment as chancellor was announced, the communications team at the Chancellor's Office planned a large-scale livestream event to introduce me to the CSU community and the public at large and Monica was chosen to moderate. It was an exciting, but frenetic, whirlwind week, and I assure you, it was nice to see a friendly face emcee'ing that event.

Among other things, we talked about my overarching priorities as the incoming chancellor. And today, 10 months after that conversation and seven months into my tenure, those priorities remain largely unchanged. They are:

First and foremost, to maintain our focus on student success while intensifying our efforts to eliminate equity gaps so that all students – regardless of background, economic circumstance, race or ethnicity – have the equal opportunity to graduate in a timely manner and earn the lifelong benefits of a high-quality college degree.

To continue to diversify the CSU's leadership, faculty and staff to better reflect the students we serve.

To better leverage technology to expand access to current and new populations of students and adult learners, and to strengthen pathways between the higher educational segments and from high school to college.

To inspire the support of our partners in Sacramento and Washington D.C., our friends and philanthropists, and our global alumni base, which I am proud to say just reached a significant milestone and is now 4 million strong – larger than the population of 23 U.S. states!

And, more immediately, to help facilitate a successful transition to a dynamic post-pandemic university.

I want to take a few minutes to focus on a couple of these priorities in a bit more depth, starting with the path to a post-pandemic CSU.

At the system and campus levels, we continue to work toward the goal of safely returning the majority of courses and campus activities to in-person delivery for the fall term.

To facilitate that return – and as many of you may know – on April 22nd, University of California President Drake and I jointly announced that the UC and CSU systems will be requiring students, faculty and staff to be immunized against COVID-19. I wholeheartedly believe that vaccination represents the safest and fastest return to the in-person activities and dynamic campus life that are hallmarks of the Cal State learning and discovery experience. The policy allows for exemptions based on medical or religious grounds. And we will continue to work to make vaccination as simple, convenient and streamlined as possible for our students, faculty and staff.

As of now, the CSU's requirement will become effective at the beginning of the fall term, or upon full FDA approval of the vaccine, whichever occurs later.

But even as we work to return to primarily face-to-face instruction, we look to refine and expand upon the great wealth of virtual instruction and support strategies that have proven so effective during the pandemic and use them to enrich the CSU student experience moving forward. Online learning shows such great potential for enhancing access (as I mentioned earlier), and we know that many students appreciate the added flexibility and engagement it provides. It also shows promise for advancing equity in exciting and significant ways. In addition, our campuses have embraced a range of virtual student support tools – from telehealth to online advising – that will enrich the student experience well into the future.

Of course, increased integration of technology can also exacerbate inequities if steps aren't taken to bridge the digital divide. During the pandemic, our campuses distributed more than 21,000 new laptops (including tablets and Chromebooks) and more than 10,000 mobile WiFi hotspots to our students – at an investment of more than 18 million dollars. And that's in addition to thousands of laptops and tablets that were already on hand in our libraries, learning centers and labs.

And thanks to a new CSU Student Success Connection initiative being developed in close collaboration with leaders at Apple, we will soon be able to ensure that every Cal State student has access to the high-quality mobile technology and broadband necessary to take full advantage of vital online programs and resources. I will announce additional details about this program in the coming weeks, but I can share now that it will be implemented in phases beginning in the upcoming fall term. Even in the initial phase, it will mark one of the largest device-distribution initiatives of its kind and I couldn't be more encouraged at its potential to bring a much-needed measure of tech equity to the CSU's most vulnerable students.

This leads me back to my first and primary priority: advancing student success and educational equity. Of course, these ideals have always been fundamental to the CSU mission. Today, our work is focused, organized and operationalized through our flagship student-success initiative: Graduation Initiative 2025, which has benefitted greatly from College Futures' generous support. As most of you know, GI 2025 was launched in 2015 and aims to help more students graduate on a timely basis – and to eliminate equity gaps that exist between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers.

It's focused on meeting students where they are, removing administrative barriers, helping them meet their basic needs, providing proactive advising exactly when and where students need support and, importantly, sharing real-time data and best practices across our 23 campuses systemwide, leveraging the power of the system to spur continuous improvement. We've completely reimagined academic preparation as well, eliminating no-credit developmental education courses and replacing them with redesigned courses that maintain academic rigor but provide additional student support. That strategy alone has been game-changing – just one year after implementation, eight times more students passed lower-division math courses than the year before, with these students saving money, earning credit toward their degrees, and developing newfound confidence in their ability to succeed in college.

Our 10-year goals for the initiative are ambitious, but I am confident we'll reach them. Six years in, our graduation and retention rates are at all-time highs – and this is true for students from all backgrounds.

And while we have made progress toward narrowing equity gaps, they continue to be stubborn; we have much more work to do to completely and permanently eliminate them.

That's why one of my first actions as chancellor was to form a GI 2025 advisory committee comprised of a diverse group of faculty, staff, administrators and – importantly – students. Their charge is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to not merely maintain but accelerate our progress to our ambitious goal of eliminating equity gaps. And I've encouraged them to be creative – nothing's off the table.

The committee's final meeting will take place tomorrow. And even though its final recommendations will be not be announced until mid-July, I can share that they are doing some truly exciting work, exploring ways to identify – and with granular detail – the courses systemwide where there is the greatest opportunity to support low-income students, historically underrepresented students and first-generation students. For example, identifying the courses where the most significant grade gaps exist, and assessing whether those gaps can be corrected through course re-design, while maintaining academic rigor and meeting learning objectives.

And the committee is also looking into ways to increase accountability. And I say “accountability" not in any punitive sense, but rather in a “responsibility" or “ownership" sense. What does it look like for every stakeholder, every student touchpoint – from faculty to advisors to administrators to campus presidents – to take daily, mindful, personal responsibility for proactively seeking out and removing barriers to success for students from all backgrounds? I understand it has been an extremely robust conversation – and one that's very results-focused.

I look forward to hearing the committee's recommendations in just a couple weeks. And more importantly, I look forward to acting upon them. In fact, I have already carved out the financial resources so that we can begin implementing those strategies that show promise immediately this fall. No student will have to wait to achieve their academic, personal and career goals.

Before we spend some time in dialogue this morning, I want to address our enrollment outlook for the fall term.

Traditionally, the best place to start when predicting future enrollment is to review what has happened in the recent past. And last year, the CSU had record enrollment – almost 486,000 students – as well as all-time highs in persistence, with more than 85 percent of first-year students returning for their second year.

So we start in a good place. But we know this has been an unprecedented 15 months and the media has painted a picture of significant across-the-board, statewide declines in enrollment. This, however, has not been reflected in our application data, which have shown something of a mixed bag, with a slight increase in graduate student applications (a trend often seen in times of economic certainty), along with flat numbers of transfer student applications and a small dip in first-year freshmen. Of course, I am referring to systemwide data.  There is variability across the CSU, with some northern and rural campuses experiencing more significant decreases in applications. And we will not have the complete picture until the fall term begins.

But even while we don't currently foresee dramatic declines, we continue to engage in targeted work to strengthen and manage our enrollment.

For example, we are paying careful attention to emerging student behaviors and preferences. Many students – even on-campus students – are showing a growing interest in online education. And while online course offerings will never replace in-person instruction and are not the best fit for every discipline, we will continue to pay careful attention to these trends and respond as appropriate.

We are also investing resources and increased attention to teacher education. Due largely to the pandemic, the state is seeing increased teacher retirements that exacerbate existing shortages, particularly in the STEM subjects, as well as a longstanding need for a more diverse K-12 teaching force across all disciplines. I am pleased to report that our efforts are showing promising results, with increases in enrollment in teacher credentialing programs that will ultimately help us meet this significant state need.

Transfer is another area we are targeting. The Associate Degree for Transfer program continues to grow as an accessible and affordable pathway for community college transfer students seeking a bachelor's degree. In fact, in fall 2012, the first year we enrolled ADT students, the CSU had 402 students on this guaranteed pathway. This past fall, we enrolled more than 17,500.  And success measures for these students are strong, as well: more than 55 percent of students transferring into the CSU with an ADT graduate in two years, and almost 80 percent graduate by year three. The CSU's new Transfer Planner, currently in development, shows great promise to streamline these vital pathways. It's an online platform that will help California community college students plan and track their progress toward transfer to one or several CSU campuses. The planner will notify students of ADT pathways and alert students who may be on an ADT pathway and not realize it.

I'll note quickly that dual enrollment is yet another strategy with great potential. By offering CSU courses to current high school students – for both high school and college credit and especially in disciplines such as STEM or ethnic studies – we can help our K-12 partners with critical programming needs while strengthening student pathways to the CSU. I can share that State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and I had a very productive meeting about dual enrollment two weeks ago, and we look forward to exploring opportunities to scale this program.

I'll end my remarks here so that we can spend the rest of our time together this morning in conversation. I look forward to answering any questions you might have and to hearing your insights and ideas about ways that we can expand upon our longstanding and productive partnership for the benefit of California's current and future students.

Monica, I'll turn the program back to you to facilitate our discussion.