Legacy and Vision: 2018 State of the CSU

Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
Legacy and Vision: 2018 State of the CSU
Long Beach, California
January 30, 2018

Last month, I celebrated my fifth year as your chancellor.

As I look back and recount my numerous visits to the 23 campuses…

the thousands of conversations with students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and the talent here in the Chancellor’s Office…

the many meetings with local, state and federal lawmakers…

and the countless discussions with our foundation and advisory boards, along with business, industry, non-profit, educational and community leaders…

I keep coming back to the remarkable breadth of reasons why the CSU matters so much to so many people.

So, what are the profound reasons that the CSU matters… for what cause… for what purpose?

I answer by first looking at our legacy as a transformative, consequential university… since our first campus was founded in 1857 as a normal school and is now an exceptional university… all the way through today.

And then I look at where the CSU stands today… what we’ve achieved together over the past years…

And where opportunities lay for 2018 and beyond…

How our legacy – and the tough decisions we must make in our present – must help inform, strengthen and power our vision for the future…

And I’m also going to look at the future… to our vision of what a consequential public university in California will emerge as in the coming decades… and what we need to do to get there.

Our Legacy

Let’s start with the CSU’s legacy.

Whether you trace our founding back six or sixteen decades – our legacy cannot be fully told by looking at a map of California… or by thumbing through the Fact Book.

Our legacy is a community of over four million Californians – alumni, students, faculty and staff – and their contributions and historic work that we celebrate today.

Our legacy is a campus rising from the ashes of the Watts Rebellion in 1965… and solidified at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Our legacy is the successful careers of alumni like film executive Kathleen Kennedy, baseball star Justin Turner, the Honorable Hilda Solis and astronaut Yvonne Cagle.

Our legacy is the discovery of gravitational waves, new techniques in agriculture, palliative care and surf science, and in the creation of cube satellites, Bluetooth and the microprocessor.

Our legacy is the five Wang Family Excellence Awardees we will celebrate later today – four faculty and one staff member – and their world-class, dedicated colleagues across this university.

Our legacy is the story of Sacramento State… which on October 16, 1967 had the courage to stand up to hatred and division by inviting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak, at a time when few others would.

On that day in 1967, Dr. King was welcomed at the Sac Airport by a young sociology professor and activist named Dean Dorn, who remembered Dr. King telling him in the short car ride from the airport to the Campus Stadium that we must:

“Keep up our hope, our struggle, and our determination to continue even when we may never reach our destination.”

A visionary statement. A timeless statement. A profound statement we can all benefit from today.

Indeed, our legacy at the CSU is the story of two sisters – Natalia and Isabel Carvajal – who, with their family, fled their home country to escape death threats from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Upon arriving in California, they didn’t speak English and struggled at first to fit in to their school. Their parents – a doctor and accountant back home – took low-wage jobs to make ends meet.

After the family’s visas expired, Natalia and Isabel worried that they couldn’t attend college or get financial aid, despite both excelling in high school.

Luckily, because of Cal State San Bernardino’s privately-funded scholarship for the highest achieving high school seniors in the county – regardless of status – Natalia and Isabel were able to reach their dream-driven goals and graduate with honors from Cal State San Bernardino.

Both have since earned advanced degrees and started a company in Los Angeles providing life-changing therapies to infants with disabilities.

Not surprisingly, over three quarters of their company’s workforce are CSU alumni.

And because of the legacy of this scholarship fund… started by the late president Al Karnig and further strengthened by President Tomás Morales… Natalia and Isabel established a Dreamers scholarship at San Bernardino last fall.

And our legacy is in my own story… as an immigrant… a student-athlete… and as the first in my family to attend college.

Look, I have personal insight and deep gratitude to California’s public higher education three-legged stool. As many know I am a product of this university… twice: East Bay and Fresno.

You’ve heard my community college, CSU and UC story before… because I love to tell it to anyone who wants to listen… and even those who don’t.

What you have likely not heard is that legacy of public higher education in California is also found in the story of my father.

My Dad was 39 when we emigrated together from Argentina to the U.S. He got his first and last job in the U.S. for the Hexcel Corporation.

After some twenty years, he realized he could no longer compete without some higher education. So did his boss. There were discussions of job loss around age 60.

A frightening proposition.

My dad’s boss offered him a position doing internal auditing but my Dad would need new training.

So, around age 60, he went to college for the first time... took night courses in auditing… and got his needed knowledge.

And worked to retirement at 65.

Think about this. California public higher education launched me early in life… and saved my Dad later in life.

I’d say that are remarkable bookends.

That’s the legacy and vision of the CSU – alongside the University of California and community colleges.

And combined, these stories – of courage, foresight, generosity, opportunity, inclusivity and excellence – further shape a profound vision for the future.

The Present

So let’s turn now and reflect on the present.

I’ll start – as we always do – with student achievement and success.

One of my personal mantras has been for more students from California’s diversely dynamic populace to earn a high-quality education and degree sooner.

Over the last five years, the CSU community has been laser focused on raising completion rates… resulting in a 25 percent improvement in first-time freshmen graduating in four years, as well as a 28 percent improvement in the rate of transfer students graduating in two years.

These would be banner increases for any university…

But in a system with 480,000 students, the raw numbers behind our holistic, all-hands-on-deck student success efforts are truly amazing.


Last year, we reached a historic milestone in degree completion – 99,000 students earned a CSU bachelor’s degree in 2016–17.

If we’d held a commencement ceremony for the entire CSU in 2017, we’d fill San José State’s football stadiumthree times over… with another 8,000 graduates filling the Redwood Bowl at Humboldt State.

That’s massive. That’s transformative. That’s consequential.

And so to our faculty, staff, students and leadership at all levels across the CSU… I say thank you!

With a baccalaureate degree, these 99,000 CSU graduates – 7,000 more than the prior year – are able to join the workforce in 2018 or continue their educational pursuits with graduate or professional school.

They are poised to earn 66 percent higher incomes than those only with a high school diploma and are far less likely to face unemployment… in any economy.

And the average early-career median salary for new CSU alumni is above the national average at $47,000.

Therefore, 7,000 additional graduates last year alone could collectively earn $328 million… their first year in the workforce. Think about the taxes…

If we keep this momentum going, we can begin to overcome California’s looming degree drought and power our society and economy for decades to come.

We know, of course, that the value and quality of a university education cannot be measured simply with metrics of graduation rates…

It’s also defined and found in the challenging and supportive environment for learning and discovery that emboldens our students with disciplinary knowledge and the necessary skills and experience to profoundly advance as productive members of a multicultural, global society.

And we know what’s at stake… if we allow our dream-driven, hard-fought progress to stagnate.

California’s industries cannot survive in the global economy if we fail to produce the engineers, programmers, builders, designers, innovators, educators and leaders of tomorrow.

And California’s diversely dynamic society – the envy of this country and world – will not thrive if we pull back from our public mission – our public mission ­­– to serve, educate and graduate future generations of students from the Golden State.

But together we can build on our progress… and increase momentum toward these goals.

More Faculty, Advising, Flexibility

Indeed, last year, the CSU brought in more than 700 new tenure-track faculty, the largest cohort in a decade… with searches for an additional 700 underway now… this has equated to nearly 400 new positions after retirements.

We’re also bringing in more staff and peer advisers… revolutionizing our curriculum and advising tools… rethinking our approaches to skill development and closing skill gaps… and revitalizing our research and learning spaces.

In November 2016, I am very grateful to this board for approving a multi-year plan authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in financing for academic projects and infrastructure, including life safety and seismic needs.

Importantly, this plan did not require new funding from the state or students, nor did it require the Board of Trustees to pull resources from other non-capital areas of the operating budget.

Instead, existing resources designated for capital needs were restructured and utilized to support the plan.

Last February, we issued the first series of bonds under the plan, providing capital funding of approximately $204 million for projects across the system.

And we are making the most of opportunities to partner with the private sector.

As you will hear later, the CSU has dozens of public-private partnership projects in various stages of development.

With these partnerships… alongside bulk purchasing, service consolidation and digitalization, and a revolutionary joint procurement program just announced with the University of California… the CSU operates 23 of the most efficiently effective universities in the country… in the world.

This is an area where the CSU is routinely cited as a national leader. But, as we all know, efficiencies and cost reductions can only go so far.

Once you begin cutting into core functions… critical support areas… equipment and infrastructure… vital faculty or staff… then the drive for efficiency becomes a death spiral of lost quality and lost confidence.

We cannot let our public university suffer that fate.

A New Expectation

This gets to why a high-quality education and graduation matter… why public higher education matters…

It is about opportunity, prosperity… about social ascent and social justice.

It is about a student reaching – and likely exceeding – their long-held, dream-driven goals.

It is about self-actualization and those benefits that transcend self.

It is about empowering Californians to be the most successful version of who they are… so that California as a whole succeeds.

We know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us. Heck, we’re only two years into our 10 year plan to eliminate equity gaps and decrease time to earn a degree.

There’s a lot of work ahead for us because we know what’s at stake.

Certainly, the status quo… we’ve-always-done-it-this-way thinking can be easy to fall back on if we are not careful or courageous.

So here’s my view of the old status quo: It is unacceptable.

Without change, of the 25,000 students who arrive at a CSU campus in need of additional academic preparation in math, one in four will not return for their second year.

One in four.

Of that, only 10 percent will graduate in four years, only 35 percent will graduate in five years and less than half will graduate after six years.

Look, we can all agree – regardless of your views on skills development – that what happens in the first year of college, especially for underserved students, matters for their chances of earning an education and degree.   

So I ask… who are we helping… who are we protecting… if we were to continue the status quo, when both individual anecdotes and compelling aggregate data indicate that it’s not working for so many of our students?

Cesar’s Story

Let’s take a look at Cesar.

Last month, Capitol Weekly published a piece by alumnus and current graduate student at Sacramento State, Cesar Torres.

Cesar, who suffers from dyslexia, wrote about being railroaded into more than a year of remedial math courses in community college before he could even start the requirements for his bachelor’s degree in communications.

When Cesar got to college, he didn’t know the statistics about students of color and math remediation – that they’re more likely to be classified as “unprepared” and are often required to take three or more remedial math classes before they can start earning credit in college-level math.

Nor did Cesar know that less than one in 10 students who are placed into these non-college credit classes will actually complete the math requirements for a bachelor’s degree.

Less than one in 10.

Luckily for Cesar, his community college – American River – offered an innovative two-semester program designed for humanities and social science majors to meet college-level quantitative reasoning requirements without getting stuck in the seeming – and sometimes actual – endless cycle of coursework without degree progress.

And because of this innovative program, and his determination, Cesar was able to enroll directly in college statistics at American River, and later transfer to and graduate from Sacramento State.

Now, Cesar is well on his way to earning his Ph.D. and becoming a college professor.

So, let’s improve the stories of tens of thousands of Cesars… of CSU students who will benefit from our recent policy revisions to developmental education.

Let’s imbue everything we do with innovation and with courage to truly enable student achievement and success.

Let’s make Cesar’s success story the new status quo.

A Quality Investment

Now, this incredible truth about our progress is that we are making gains on adding more professors, advisors and courses while keeping costs for students and the State of California low.

And many faculty and staff across the CSU are hard at work redesigning courses to ensure students can earn college credit while receiving the support they need.

Indeed, we are constantly praised nationally for return on investment... by experts in higher education and in statewide public opinion polling, including a recent study of Californians’ view that showed significant improvements over the past six years in very favorable impressions of the CSU.

And during the last five years, we have kept focus on an affordable college degree, with tuition rising only 4.9 percent while creating access for an additional 35,000 Pell Grant recipients.

The 35,000 Pell students we added over the past five years is equivalent to the total combined enrolled of Pell Grant students at the eight Ivy League universities…. plus USC… plus UCLA… and plus UC Berkeley.

That, too, is an important part of our proud legacy.

Between Pell Grants, Cal Grants and the CSU’s State University Grants, some two-thirds of our students have their tuition completely covered… without loans.

Let me repeat… two-thirds of CSU students do not pay tuition after financial aid.

Now, we also know that students don’t just pay tuition. They have to live in California… and California is indeed expensive.

That’s why it’s important… in line with our legacy… to keep costs as low as possible for our students… while also understanding the reality that a quality education does take resources.

And that in today’s new normal here in California… the days of fully-subsidized tuition are in the past.

The simple truth is that someone always pays… it’s who pays that has changed over time.

Make no mistake… we are thankful for incremental increases in our state appropriation in recent years.

Yet, these increases in support from the state are going in large part to the rising costs of healthcare… or other mandated and inflationary costs that eat away at progress that we’ve made.

We are, essentially, trying to walk up a down escalator.

Even with the remarkable improvements in efficiency and cost-reduction we have done and will continue to do – as described later in this meeting in the budget and finance report by Steve Relyea – we can’t progress to meet California’s needs and our students’ expectations of us. 

Indeed, we’re on an unsustainable pathway.

This concerns and saddens me… as a Californian, as an educator, and as your Chancellor.

And while the idealist in me says that someday the state will take us back to the days of free education as a public investment, the realist in me says that’s not going to happen in our lifetime.

Still… with all due respect, I will continue to say to our elected leaders… the moment to properly invest in the CSU is overdue… and as our trustees have requested year in and year out.

We are, after all, all Californians. 

It shouldn’t be the CSU versus the State of California when it comes to resources… it should be us working together to serve Californians.

With a strong economy, robust state coffers and new industries generating millions – if not billions – in additional taxes and fees… all developments resulting in the growing need for a university-educated populace… it is imperative to invest adequately in the today that fuels the tomorrow.

Our Vision

That leads me to our vision.

It is based on shared priorities… and I trust that in the year ahead, we can build on the progress made in 2017 toward:

  • Student achievement and success… making sure that more students – regardless of background or status – are earning degrees that empower their career goals and life trajectories.
  • Enrollment… staying true to our founding mission to educate and graduate every qualified Californian... and not turning away more of them from our campuses.
  • Facilities and deferred maintenance… working to repair, renovate and modernize our learning and working environments… and successfully advocating for more flexibility and authority to better meet our backlogs and needs.
  • And fair compensation… I’m proud that we were able to come together with our union partners last year on new agreements that better reflect our appreciation of the work they do.

But our voices are loudest and strongest when in unison, and when we tell the profound CSU story in our thousands of voices.

So how do we ensure that our momentum toward these shared priorities continues in 2018… the next decade… and beyond?

The Fight Ahead

I believe that every obstacle and opportunity facing the CSU in the year ahead will require our university community – alongside stakeholders, allies, friends and partners –to speak as one voice for our values and mission in service to California and for California.

In November 2017, I was invited to speak at the California Economic Summit’s annual program, the theme of which is instructive for today… “The Roadmap to Shared Prosperity.”

I joined with UC President Janet Napolitano and Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley. Following my comments, I was asked what my predictions were for 2018…

My first prediction was for an all-CSU Final Four in both men’s and women’s basketball.

So far, so good.

Hope springs eternal in sports… but if it doesn’t work out, there will be momentary disappointment for fans, players and coaches.

My second prediction for 2018 was that it would be a fight… for resources, for our values and for our vision as the most diverse, inclusive and consequential university in the nation.

Now, I don’t say a fight as a disrespect toward our elected leaders at all… I know that they have a tough job deciding among California’s many competing priorities.

When I say fight, I mean that we’ll all need to come together… along with our sibling institutions, the University of California and California Community Colleges and our elected officials all together… to affirm our belief that the best investment that California can make for its people is public higher education. 

Indeed, like sports, hope springs eternal in funding requests… but here, the consequence of not succeeding is much more profound than mere disappointment.

It means lives not redirected with the power of public education, and the hope, opportunity, and social ascent that lifts individuals, families and communities. 

It means lost human potential. 

Our mission, then, has both an economic, social and moral imperative at its root… so let’s work together to be successful.

When I say fight, I mean that we need to continue to stand against the centrifugal forces – hate, ignorance, intolerance, bigotry – that seek to divide our communities, university and societies. 

That is why yesterday, I issued a statement on CSU’s Commitment to Inclusive Excellence, available for all to peruse at our website.

And, when I say fight, I mean that we need to stand in solidarity with our most vulnerable students.

Protecting Our Most Vulnerable

Through our 160 year history, standing up for our most vulnerable students has been an integral part of our legacy.

Indeed, at all times, unfortunately, there are students – individually and collectively – facing undue hardships, obstacles, and discrimination.

And as a public university – as the CSU – it is in our founding DNA to support, advocate and protect our most vulnerable students… no matter the circumstance.

A decade ago, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to award honorary degrees to students of Japanese ancestry whose college educations were disrupted during World War II due to forced removal and incarceration.

Some of these degrees, unfortunately, were awarded posthumously.

After the vote, the late Chancellor Reed said, quote, “we hope to achieve a small right in the face of such grave wrongs.”

Today, we continue to lead the state and nation in fighting for women’s rights and combatting sexual assault on campus.

In 2014, the CSU was the first university in the country to appoint a dedicated systemwide Title IX Compliance Officer to actively address issues related to sex discrimination and sexual violence.

Now, every CSU campus has a dedicated Title IX officer committed to providing wrap-around services and prompt and fair responses, investigations and disciplinary hearings.

For our LGBTQ community, every CSU campus offers resources, services, and supportive, welcoming communities for students and employees through Pride Centers, safe zones, inclusivity centers and more.

For our Dreamer students and employees, we continue to work closely with the state attorney general...

And together with the UC, community colleges, religious and community groups, companies big and small, and national higher education groups like AASCU, HACU and APLU… nearly everyone in higher education across the country… we continue to push congress and the White House to protect our Dreamer students and employees.

Regrettably, the specter of no resolution on DACA’s future looms large… causing untold anxiety and uncertainty.

This inaction – if it is allowed to stand – will forever be a stain on our shared values as Americans.

Future generations will judge us unkindly.

That’s why we continue to call for the passage of a compassionate Dream Act… without delay.

Senator Kamala Harris has it right when she said, quote,

“Every single day that we don’t pass the DREAM Act, is another day these young people have to live in fear – despite the fact that they have done everything right.”

I agree.

A Strong Vision

We know that our success will be determined by who we include… by our commitment to our shared priorities and values... and by our ability to ensure social ascent for our graduates.

This is our vision. Yet, today, it is vulnerable. It is at risk.

We have made great strides in cost avoidance and finding efficiencies at every possible turn. But without sufficient, sustained and predictable resources… we do face an uncertain future. 

And as a public university, we believe rightly that the onus for new investment resides in the public tax dollars of the State of California.

If current trends in state funding persist, I fear that much of the progress we’ve made already on our rigorous student success goals will stagnate and slip.

The currently proposed augmentation to our state appropriation of $92 million for the 2018-19 year is one-third of the amount needed to fund the top tier needs of the CSU, as reflected in this board’s budget request of $283 million made in November. 

As we will discuss later in our meeting, that reflects an increase in our operating budget of 1.4 percent… half the rate of inflationary cost increases, which we don’t control.

During the recession, the state was forced to cut $908 million from our true recurring operating budgets.

In the current context, the state says that we received $1.6 billion over the past seven years. 

For context of this $1.6 billion… $700 million are refunds or pass through costs, leaving about $907 million in new, actual state investment for recurring operating costs since the recessionary cuts of a nearly identical amount.

Make no bones about it…we are grateful for that increase… but it only gets us even to where we were before the recession… and that’s without correcting anything for inflation over the 10-year period.

Let’s put that $900 million into further context.

From 2011 to 2018, the State of California’s general fund increased 59 percent – from $84.8 billion to $135.1 billion.

That means the CSU’s share of that $50.3 billion in new spending for the state over the past seven years was less than two percent.

This sort of investment by the state over the past seven years – and it was building on a trend of downward investment for the past few decades – won’t allow us to get where we need to be to serve California…

And it won’t allow us to continue to be the inclusive, hopeful and dynamic force for prosperity, justice and social ascent that was instilled in our modern founding by the late Governor Edmund G. Brown six decades ago.

Never lose track… remember, we are an institution that prides itself on who it admits, educates and graduates… rather than who it turns away.

An institution committed to equity, inclusivity and social ascent and renowned for its quality, discovery and achievement.

A university known for its transformative and consequential impact on California through its teaching and learning, directed research and creative activity, and engagement with community, business and industry – all accomplished by our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

I’m confident… stubbornly optimistic… that because of the dedication of our faculty and staff… the achievements of our students and alumni… the guidance of our stakeholders and partners… and the vital importance of our mission to the state of California’s present and future…

That we’ll be successful in achieving our vision as we change the funding dynamic of anemic state support and continue to bend our own cost-curve.

In this regard, let me close and leave you with a thought from yesterday’s New York Times, in which Aaron Carroll, an academic physician from Indiana, posited the question:

Preventive health care… is it worth it? Does it save money?

And in our context, let’s exchange the words “preventive health care” with the words “CSU education.”

The article that Aaron wrote was influenced by many peer-reviewed research articles and federal policymaker’s opinion pieces, and concludes that preventive healthcare does not save money… and I quote now:

“But money doesn’t have to be saved to make something worthwhile. Prevention improves outcomes. It makes people healthier. It improves quality of life. It often does so for a very reasonable price.

There are many good arguments for increasing our focus on prevention.

Almost all have to do with improving quality, though, not reducing spending. We would do well to admit that and move forward.

Sometimes good things cost money.”

And one of the reader comments in the New York Times brought a smile, quote:

“This is truly an instance of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

Now with the word exchange I suggest… exchanging CSU education for preventive health care… a CSU education improves outcomes.

It makes people able to ascend socially and economically.

It improves quality of life.

It often does so for a very reasonable price.

There are many good arguments for increasing our focus on a CSU education. Almost all have to do with improving quality, though, not reducing spending.

We would do well to admit that and move forward.

Sometimes good things cost money.

The CSU is a good thing. It is a very good thing.

A privilege… a calling to be part of. Amazing people doing amazing things that truly matter.

And that is why the state of the CSU is strong.

Thank you.