Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – April 9, 2021

Commission on the Extended University Convening
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
April 9, 2021

Thank you very much for your kind introduction, President Conoley, and good morning to all of you! I am so glad to have the opportunity to join you today.

I want to begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude and deep appreciation for the remarkable, consequential and necessary work of this commission and of the CSU’s professional and continuing education teams more broadly. Your work so perfectly embodies the CSU’s core values of inclusive excellence, access to opportunity and equity in all its dimensions.

And not only do you effectively advance our mission, you expand it, bringing the security, purpose and promise of higher education to adult learners across the state and, increasingly, the nation, by meeting them where they are with flexibility, understanding, compassion and support.

I have such enormous admiration and respect for those bold adult learners you serve. I think of the courage it takes to resist the momentum of the status quo, to balance the demands of family and work and reach for something bigger – to return to school after years or even decades away or maybe even to take a college course for the very first time. And I think of how, in doing so, these learners inspire friends and colleagues and daughters and sons.

My respect for what you do and who you serve hits pretty close to home for me. Some of you may know that my daughter earned her certificate in construction management at Fresno State at a time when professional obligations at a job she loves made committing to a traditional bachelor’s degree program impractical for her. She continued to work while taking courses in the evening, earning a certificate that has benefited her greatly. In fact, she has been promoted several times thanks in no small part to the skills and knowledge she has gained. She’s so grateful for the program and so am I.

I was struck by the video we watched earlier that referred to your calling to act as change agents enhancing and enriching individuals and communities and contributing to the public good.

You’ve delivered on that calling in myriad innovative ways. Through online and hybrid courses offered many years before the entire university joined you in the virtual space and relied upon many of the best practices you’ve developed. By partnering with industry leaders to develop relevant courses and forward-focused programs to help adults meet the challenges presented by rapid changes in the world of work, and to help California meet the demand for an increasingly educated workforce. And by continuing to refine and enhance degree-completion programs by adding supports and removing barriers that may have prevented students from getting to the finish line. I am particularly excited by the potential of credit for prior learning in this regard, which shows such great promise to provide increased access for historically underserved students and to narrow equity gaps: two of my highest priorities. I know that many of you have devoted significant time and effort to revising and updating our credit for prior learning policy and I look forward to seeing your work and exploring a path forward with you.

That shared path forward has never been more critical, more urgent. It’s clear the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by those without a college degree or certificate, and it has disproportionately affected women, people of modest financial means and people of color. The evidence has never been more compelling that we need to lean in to provide more – and more innovative – support to these adult learners so that they can advance in their careers and enjoy the higher earnings, stability and benefits that result from higher education. You can count on my support to do so. So please know that I am always available to you. I want to hear your ideas. I want to hear what is working well. And most important: I want to hear what we can do better to serve these deserving individuals.

That starts right now, and I’m eager to start my conversation with commission chair President Conoley and with all of you. But before I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight one more program.

Last summer, moving with astounding speed, you introduced Courses for Causes, offering free online classes for first responders and health care workers, as well as working adults and other community members impacted by the pandemic. These adult students gained advanced certifications and obtained new skills and new career options to weather the economic uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.

In the summer and fall terms alone, you served more than 8,600 students: students who completed more than 2,000 courses and earned almost 400 certificates.  

As remarkable as these statistics are, even more compelling are the individual stories behind each of them. I’ll share just two now, including the Sonoma State student who described her compassion cultivation training course as – and I quote – “an utterly transformative experience.” And she continued: “There are so many ways in which this class has improved my life, my personal relationships, my teaching and my larger view of the world…. There is no aspect of my life that has not been positively impacted by this class.”

Indeed, Courses for Causes has changed lives.

And it may have saved one, too.

This January, Fresno paramedic Travis McSherry came to the aid of a Spanish speaker who had fallen in the night and injured his head. McSherry – who doesn’t speak Spanish but who had recently enrolled in a Functional Spanish for First Responders class at Fresno State as part of this program – had learned just enough Spanish to understand that the man had fallen because of dizziness after chest pains. So McSherry knew to put the patient on a heart monitor and start an IV. He was able to direct him to emergency cardiac care upon arriving at the hospital rather than simply focusing on his head injury.

An incredible story and an incredible program.

When our state, our first responders and your adult learners needed you the most, you stepped up. That’s being change agents enhancing and enriching individuals and communities and contributing to the public good. And it’s something I will never forget.

Again, thank you for all that you do to advance the CSU’s mission and expand its impact.

President Conoley, shall we begin our discussion?