Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – May 5, 2021

Community College League of California Annual Trustees Conference
Keynote Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
May 5, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind introduction, Trustee Grey, and good morning to everyone in attendance. It’s great to be with you today!

Since I am relatively new to my role as the eighth chancellor of the California State University –and to many of you, I’m sure – I thought I might begin by sharing just a few words about my background.

As Trustee Grey mentioned, I am the first person of color and first native Californian to serve as chancellor. It’s an honor that is simultaneously a source of great pride and extraordinarily humbling.

My great grandfather came to the United States from Mexico almost a century ago to help build California’s railroad. He and his family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather remembered that experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.

My family eventually settled 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. Certainly, they had the intelligence and drive to succeed in college, but they never had the opportunity.

But thanks to their hard work and resolve, I did.

I attended 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 – and especially the past seven years during which I had the honor of serving as president of Fresno State – 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 the CSU’s chancellor, with the opportunity to continue to positively impact lives at a scale that the CSU alone can provide as the nation’s largest and most ethnically and economically diverse four-year university. I consider it my life’s highest professional honor and responsibility.

I tell you my story by way of introduction, but also because I suspect that it might be your story as well. Sure, the facts, the circumstances, may be very different, but I bet our stories are similar: folks who’ve experienced the uniquely transformative power of higher education in our own lives – and who have made it our lives’ work to provide that same opportunity to future generations of talented and diverse leaders who will make our communities, state and nation stronger for decades to come.

Just as we share a mission, we also share many of the same challenges. And, over the past 14 months, these challenges have been especially daunting. But as we collectively continue to navigate what is hopefully the homestretch of the pandemic, I want to take just a moment to commend you for your capable, committed and compassionate leadership through this historic moment in time. With ingenuity, adaptability and resolve, you have helped your students maintain their paths to success, whether that path is an associate degree and entry into the workforce or a transfer to a four-year college or university. And you have done so while protecting your students’ health and well-being (and that of your broader campus communities) while doing all you can to meet your students’ basic needs and help them bridge the digital divide.

Thank you for your vital and necessary work. The results of this work are being borne out on CSU campuses across the state.

Last fall, we enrolled our largest-ever student body, with our 23 campuses collectively enrolling almost 486,000 students, an increase of more than 3,600 students over fall 2019. While the CSU’s efforts to improve the persistence of continuing students was certainly a contributing factor, this increase in enrollment was also driven in large part by increasing numbers of transfer students, the overwhelming majority of whom come from your colleges. So this is a shared success story, and the CSU is deeply appreciative of your leadership that helped make this possible.

Before I reflect on a few other ways California’s community colleges and the CSU can and do work effectively together for the benefit of our students and our state, I want to provide you with a brief update on the CSU’s plans for the fall term.

As some of you may know, when we began to see positive trends in the control of COVID-19 this winter, including an increasingly efficient statewide distribution of vaccines, my predecessor Chancellor Emeritus White and I announced in early December our intention to deliver courses primarily in-person starting in fall 2021. Thankfully, our optimism has largely carried forward, and Governor Newsom’s recent announcement of the state’s June 15 reopening has reinforced our planning approach. 

So, our campuses continue to work toward the goal of returning the majority of courses and campus activities to in-person delivery this fall, while implementing recommended protocols for face coverings, sanitation and physical distancing. Of course, we will continue to work closely with state and local public health officials and adjust our plans if necessary. And we also look forward to refining and expanding the great wealth of virtual instruction and support strategies that have worked so well during the pandemic and using them to enrich the CSU student experience moving forward.

To further facilitate a safe and expedient return to in-person learning activities and vibrant campus life, two weeks ago the CSU and the University of California jointly announced that we will be requiring students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for the fall term. The requirement is conditioned upon one or more vaccines receiving full approval from the FDA, and it will also allow for students, faculty and staff to seek exemptions based on medical or religious grounds.

While my leadership team and I understand and appreciate that such requirements invariably generate controversy and opposition – and are respectful of those with differing viewpoints – we strongly believe this is in the best interest of the health and safety of students, staff and faculty and it’s a critical step toward bringing the pandemic to an end.

And as we emerge from the pandemic, the CSU’s future looks bright. In addition to the record enrollment numbers I mentioned earlier, our graduation and retention rates are also at all-time highs for students from all backgrounds and walks of life. But while progress has been made, much more work remains to be done to completely and permanently eliminate the equity gaps that exist between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers. But we will get there – we won’t rest until we do.

And, of course, the CSU will only get to its brightest future by building on the longstanding, productive and close partnership between the CSU and California’s community colleges.

Earlier, I mentioned that the CSU deeply appreciates and benefits greatly from your resilience and your skilled and dedicated work to educate, encourage and set your students on the path to a four-year degree.

The Associate Degree for Transfer Program is a shining example in this regard. 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, with 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 another shared success and collaborative effort. For example, a joint faculty committee has developed Transfer Model Curriculum plans to create seamless transitions from an ADT to 40 in-demand CSU majors such as business administration, marketing, accounting, criminal justice and psychology, to name just a few.

And in the decade since the ADT was created, the CSU and the community colleges have partnered on a statewide marketing campaign – the “Degree with a Guarantee” – as well as numerous professional development opportunities for faculty from the two systems. Most recently, the two system offices have agreed to develop a collaborative longitudinal study and assessment on the outcomes of the ADT program. Together, we will continue to strengthen and expand these guaranteed pathways from our community colleges to the CSU. I know this is of interest to our friends in Sacramento, as well.

I am also pleased with our continued work to eliminate administrative barriers to transfer, more broadly. For example, since 2018, the CSU and California’s community colleges have partnered to develop an online course finder that provides students who are enrolled at the CSU or a community college access to 10,000 online, transferable classes.

The collaborative initiative – called Finish Faster – gives CSU students the flexibility to complete lower-division general education requirements during the summer through online coursework. Community college students benefit from the availability of online courses that will help them toward their goal of transferring or earning an associate degree.

I also want to make you aware of a new online transfer planner the CSU is developing with input from community college counselors across the state. It shows great promise to help potential transfer students avoid loss of credit and reduce the time and money required to earn their degree. And it is a scalable system that will enhance the effectiveness of community college advisors who may be constrained by limited resources. The online portal will allow students to track their progress toward a CSU degree while attending a community college and then import this information into their CSU application to streamline the admission process.

We also continue to support broader adoption of electronic transcripts by community colleges to expedite the transfer process. Investment in a statewide electronic transcript network is among the recommendations that have come from the state’s “Cradle to Career” data system workgroup and was highlighted in the Governor’s January budget proposal. It’s an investment I believe will pay great dividends.

Regional partnerships to enhance collaboration among campuses can lead to increased higher education participation and completion among students who are committed to their hometowns, often because of work and family responsibilities, and for whom transfer outside of the region is not feasible. An example that I am personally familiar with is the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, comprised of leaders of 28 colleges and universities in the Central Valley. It shows potential to remove roadblocks to transfer and other barriers that impede the region’s students.

In another great example, CSU Monterey Bay and Hartnell College have developed Computer Science in 3. “CS in 3,” as it is known, is a unique program offered in partnership between the two institutions that provides a pathway and support structure for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science in three years. Half of the coursework is completed at Hartnell and the other half at Monterey Bay and students have access to resources at both institutions for all three years. And significantly, three quarters of the students who’ve completed the program are both first-generation and from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds.

And, when it comes to better serving an increasingly diverse student body, we all know that more must be done to recruit, retain and develop faculty and staff who reflect those students. Intersegmental collaboration is critical to these collective effort, and I can share that Chancellor Oakley, President Drake and I are exploring ways to support CSU graduates from communities of color – so many of whom started their academic journeys in our community colleges – to enter UC doctoral programs and to inspire them to return to the CSU or the community colleges to teach, strengthening and diversifying our faculties.

Partnership and collaborative efforts among California’s educational segments will only increase in the years to come, and I, together with all the system leaders, welcome that with great enthusiasm. I also welcome your ideas. I ask that you please never hesitate to reach out to me with strategies for collaboration that will benefit California’s talented and diverse students.

In fact, we can begin right now. With my remaining time, I am happy to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you might have.

Trustee Grey, may I turn it back over to you for Q&A?