Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - June 7, 2021

The Wellman Group
Reflections on the Contemporary CSU (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
June 7, 2021

Thank you for that kind introduction, Roger, and good morning to all of you! It's great to be with you today. Some of you are old friends and colleagues. Others I've yet to have the pleasure to meet. But all of you are esteemed educational leaders whom I regard with the greatest admiration and respect. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today. It's truly an honor.

 With my remarks today, I thought I would paint a picture of the contemporary California State University. Given our limited time together this morning, it admittedly will be an incomplete picture. But I hope you'll find it to be time well spent, and I would venture a guess that you'll be surprised at some of what I share about the CSU. Heck, I am the Chancellor and not a week goes by that I don't learn something new about this extraordinary university.  

I'll start with a few words about our scope. The CSU is the nation's largest public four-year university. 56,000 faculty and staff serve 486,000 students at our 23 campuses across California, stretching from Humboldt State in the north to San Diego State 800 miles to the south.

Not only are we the nation's largest, we're also its most diverse. Nearly half of our students are students of color, half are eligible to receive the Pell Grant, and almost 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 CSU diploma.

The academic disciplines associated with those degrees is another point of interest. Given the CSU's roots and long history in teacher preparation, it should come as no surprise that the university graduates almost half of the state's teachers. But our engineering programs have experienced dramatic growth in recent years. We now award about half of the state's engineering degrees, as well as more than 50 percent of its business, criminal justice and public administration degrees. And with my Central Valley roots, I have to highlight that we award three out of every four of California's agriculture degrees.

While it's always a pleasure to rattle off these statistics, I need to stop and direct the credit where it's due: to our talented and diverse students, whose intellect, drive and resolve inspire me on a daily basis. Also to our exceptional faculty and staff. And nowhere is their skill, creativity and commitment more evident than in their implementation and refinement of Graduation Initiative 2025. GI 2025 is our flagship student-success initiative 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 been nothing short of a game-changer for the CSU.

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 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. Talk about game-changing: just one year after implementing this change, eight times more students passed lower-division math courses than the year before, 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 persistence 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, we have more work to do to completely and permanently eliminate them. We'll get there. We won't rest until we do.

Complementing GI 2025 are our efforts to strengthen and streamline transfer pathways from California's Community Colleges to enhance access and success for our state's students. About half of our students transfer to the CSU from a California Community College, so we are continually engaged in intersegmental collaboration to eliminate inefficiencies that can lead to loss of credit and increased time and expense for the students we share.

A shining example is the Associate Degree for Transfer program that provides guaranteed admission to a CSU campus upon successful completion of 60 credits of approved general education and major-specific coursework at a community college, and the opportunity to graduate from the CSU with only 60 additional credits in more than 40 in-demand majors.

The program has been an unmitigated success. 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.

Success measures for these students have been 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. And I'm pleased to note that, on several of our campuses, we have entirely eliminated equity gaps in graduation rates for transfer students who are Pell eligible or who are students of color. These are remarkable outcomes, and a shared success story with our community college colleagues.

You'll notice that equity of opportunity is a through-line in my remarks. And, in addition to ensuring equitable access and removing barriers to success that confront so many of our most vulnerable students, that means ensuring all students have an equal opportunity to enter the field of study and career of their choosing, including the increasingly in-demand STEM fields.

So we are working hard to promote diversity in STEM and we are making progress. In the 2019-2020 academic year, for example, we conferred approximately 22,000 bachelor's degrees in the STEM fields – and one third of those were earned by underrepresented minority students. That's up almost 10 percentage points in just five years.

That progress is the result of a systemwide, multi-pronged effort, including partnerships with industry, like the Edison STEM-NET Student Research Fellowship Program, which provides experiential learning opportunities in STEM to students of color and to women. BUILD programs (or “building infrastructure leading to diversity") are funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and provide hands-on biomedical research and training opportunities for historically underrepresented students to propel them into careers as health research scientists and biomedical practitioners. And campus-community partnerships across the state, internships and STEM career workshops; math and science camps; mentorship programs with local elementary, middle and high school students, have been invaluable in inspiring and developing future generations of diverse STEM scholars and professionals.

And on the topic of STEM and research opportunities, as past leaders of research institutions, you may be interested to learn that the CSU has an externally funded sponsored programs portfolio of about 658 million dollars, which allows us to engage undergraduate and master's degree students through research experiences where students work on practical, hands-on projects with industry and other sponsors. This research also helps to build faculty excellence and promotes the integration of cutting-edge concepts into the learning experience.

We also focus on exposing students to innovative projects that have societal impact and address California's most pressing concerns. Many of those projects are run through the CSU's 10 multi-campus consortia, focusing on disciplines ranging from agriculture and biosciences to palliative care and water resources and policy. 

As you probably know, we currently have two polytechnic institutions in the Cal State system, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, that offer a “learn by doing" approach, with specialized academic programming and research opportunities in the STEM fields. What you may not know is that we may soon have one more, with Humboldt State currently exploring the possibility of converting to the state's third polytechnic university. While a formal proposal has not yet been presented to our Board of Trustees, the idea is clearly aligned with our state's priorities: Governor Newsom included a significant investment to support this effort in the May Revision to his 2021-2022 budget proposal.

Before I leave the topic of research, I want to emphasize that many of our research initiatives involve partnership or collaboration with our colleagues in the UC, whether it's groups like the Consortium for Sustainability that focuses on sustainability and climate change research and education, or the BUILD programs I mentioned earlier that launch CSU students into careers in biomedicine, and so often to doctoral study in the UC. And out of the 33,000 journal articles published by CSU faculty over the past five years, almost 25 percent featured co-authors from the UC system.

And, on a related note, I can share that President Drake and I are exploring ways to support CSU graduates from communities of color to enter UC doctoral programs, and to inspire them to return to the CSU to teach, strengthening and diversifying our faculty and inspiring our diverse and talented students to new heights of success.

So we've arrived again at that unifying thread, educational equity in all its dimensions: inclusive excellence, two words that might most succinctly describe the contemporary California State University. And those two words certainly inform my priorities as its eighth Chancellor, and they're close to my heart as the first person of color and native Californian to serve in the role. It's an honor that is simultaneously a source of great pride and extraordinarily humbling.

For those of you who don't know me well, I was a Central Valley kid, growing up in a small, agricultural town called Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. I was raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my single mother, who was a beautician. They worked hard, dreaming of a bright future for their son and grandson, and setting an example I have never forgotten.

They certainly had the intelligence and drive to succeed in college, but never had the opportunity. Thankfully, I did, attending the University of California, Berkeley as part of a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the Valley, and from modest financial means. It was at UC Berkeley as I began to see my own life transformed through my college experience that I discovered my passion for educational leadership.

And throughout my career I've seen higher education transform the lives of so many talented and diverse students. Students who grew up in circumstances similar to my own.

This is why I am so humbled and inspired to now serve as Chancellor, with the opportunity to continue to positively impact lives at a scale that only the CSU can provide. It's my life's highest professional honor and responsibility.

I am eager to spend some time in conversation with you this morning, but, before we do, I should note that the CSU continues to work toward the goal of returning the majority of courses and campus activities safely to in-person delivery this fall, while refining and expanding upon the great wealth of virtual instruction and support strategies that have worked so well during the pandemic, using them to enrich the CSU student experience moving forward. Thanks to a new CSU Student Success Connection initiative developed in close collaboration with leaders at Apple, we will ensure that every Cal State student has access to high-quality mobile technology and broadband necessary to take full advantage of these vital online programs and resources.

And finally, I believe our recent decision, announced jointly with the University of California to require that students, faculty and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 represents the safest and most expedient path back to the face-to-face learning and discovery experiences and vibrant campus life that are hallmarks of the CSU.

In the interest of time, I will end my remarks here, having painted that admittedly incomplete picture of today's CSU. But I look forward to filling in a few of the blanks in discussion with you during our remaining time together this morning. Roger, will you please help facilitate that discussion?