Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - December 13, 2021

Foundation Board of Governors Convening
Brief Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
December 13, 2021

Thank you, Ron, and good afternoon! It is wonderful to be with you today, the first opportunity I have had to gather with you in person since becoming Chancellor almost one year ago.

And I want to take advantage of this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation for your remarkable and highly valued support during my first year:

  • For sharing your insights about the CSU's vital relationships with California's business and legislative leaders
  • For reaching out to me with opportunities to strengthen those relationships – often making important introductions that will benefit the university for years to come;
  • For your extraordinary generosity;
  • And for being champions of the CSU, our talented and diverse students, our 4 million global alumni and our dedicated faculty and staff, with powerful and effective advocacy. I offer each of you my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation. 

​​I also want to give a special shout-out to those of you who have participated in my campus visits, as campuses began to re-open this fall. Kristin, it was great to see you here in Long Beach, my first in-person visit. And Ron, thank you for joining me in Sacramento. I also want to thank Michael for arranging a meeting for me with Senator Padilla at a TELACU event, and Shari for representing the Foundation Board at the dedication ceremony honoring the opening and naming of the new George and Judy Marcus Hall for the Liberal and Creative Arts on the San Francisco State campus – the campus's first new academic building in 25 years. And George, I am very sorry that a sudden and urgent family matter kept me from attending. Thanks to you and Judy for your visionary generosity, your leadership, and your decades of service to the CSU. 

It's my pleasure to begin my remarks today – one year into my tenure and as we continue to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic – by sharing that the state of the CSU is strong. Last spring, we celebrated the largest graduating class in the history of our university, with almost 133,000 students earning a Cal State degree. Graduation rates are also at all-time highs for students from all backgrounds.

This fall, vibrancy began to return to campus life thanks in large part to the success of our vaccination mandate. In fact, for the fall semester, 95 percent of students attending on-campus activities and 96 percent of faculty and staff working in-person have certified being vaccinated. That's 433,000 vaccinated students and more than 51,000 vaccinated faculty and staff. As a result, our campuses are among the safest environments in the regions they serve.

Almost 70 percent of Cal State students systemwide are attending courses offered fully or partially in person, with fall sports, concerts, performances and many other events exceeding expectations for participation and attendance.

And looking forward to the spring term, barring a significant surge in cases, there will be a continued increase in the number of in-person activities, with the ability to flex toward virtual modalities if circumstances require. However, even as public health conditions improve, we will continue to expand and enhance many of the virtual learning and support services that proved so effective through the pandemic to be responsive to the shifting preferences of our students, who increasingly appreciate the access and flexibility these virtual options provide.

Of course, there is much work before us. Given the CSU's size and scope, we will always be advancing hundreds of initiatives and working toward an equal number of worthy goals across our 23 campuses. But I have identified five overarching priorities as guideposts to inform our work moving forward.

I shared with you a moment ago that graduation rates are at all-time highs for students from all backgrounds. That is undeniable progress and it is to be celebrated. However, stubborn gaps remain in graduation rates between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers. Eliminating those gaps once and for all is my first priority. And it will remain so until every Cal State student has the equal opportunity to earn the lifelong and life-transforming benefits of a Cal State degree.

Last January, in one of my first acts as Chancellor, I formed an advisory committee of expert stakeholders, including faculty, staff, students and campus leaders. The committee's charge was to develop recommendations for strategic solutions to close equity gaps. Nothing was off the table. The committee completed its work this summer, and we have since developed an equity action plan guided by their visionary recommendations. Executive Vice Chancellor Alva will be sharing the details of that plan with you a little later this afternoon.

My second priority is supporting the physical, mental and emotional health and well-being of our talented and diverse students. I know you are all aware of how the stresses and isolation associated with the pandemic have exacerbated an already alarming rise in mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, especially among our nation's young people.

Third, we must meaningfully address tech equity to help our most vulnerable students bridge the digital divide. To advance this priority, this fall Phase 1 of our CSUCCESS initiative was launched on eight of our campuses, making available – free of charge – a new iPad Air, Apple Pencil and Apple Smart Keyboard Folio to every incoming first year and transfer student. The initiative proved to be extremely well received, and we were able to distribute new, high-quality, reliable mobile computing equipment to almost 23,000 students. For the spring term, more than half of our campuses will participate in Phase 2.

We are carefully tracking the program's impact on retention and graduation rates and through experiential research with student participants. I have every confidence that CSUCCESS will prove to be a game-changer in terms of student success, especially for our most vulnerable students. And we look forward to that day, coming soon, when technology is an accessible, essential and invaluable tool – and not a barrier – for all of our students.  

As my fourth priority, we must redouble our efforts to diversify our faculty and staff. It is extraordinarily important to me that our students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who authentically understand their lived experiences because they've walked a similar path and are uniquely able to inspire the very best in our talented students.

And finally – and perhaps most relevant to this convening – I look to inspire additional public and private support and partnership especially among California's business community.

This is a topic that is top of mind for me. In fact, just last Friday I had the honor of addressing the CalChamber's Board of Directors on ways the CSU and California's employers can continue to partner in order to meet the state's current and future workforce needs.

To date, we've been extraordinarily successful in this regard. In fact, as I shared with the Chamber, we produce nearly half of the state's bachelor's degrees and a third of the master's degrees. That includes:

  • More than half of the state's bachelor's degrees in business, engineering, public administration and criminal justice;
  • Nearly half of the degrees in the life sciences, nursing, media, culture and design, and;
  • Almost three out of every four degrees serving California's iconic agriculture and wine industries… and more than 90 percent of the state's hospitality degrees.

All in all, one out of 10 California employees is a Cal State graduate.

But as impressive as these datapoints are, we must do more. The need for a diverse and educated workforce continues to grow, and the skills California's employers require will continue to evolve with the fast-changing future of work.

At the conclusion of my remarks to the Chamber, I took a few questions from the Chair and from audience members on this issue, and it sparked a robust dialogue.  I thought that, during my remaining time with you this afternoon, we might continue that discussion. Although this time, I'd like to turn the tables and ask you just a couple of questions:

First, in your opinion, do employers see the CSU as a pipeline of a diverse and career-ready workforce?  And if not, what can we do to change that perception?

My second question: how can the CSU continue to thrive as a resource for creativity, innovation, and problem solving for California business?

Thank you for your insights. I could continue this conversation all afternoon, but I know we have a full agenda before us, so I will turn the program back over to Chair Barhorst. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today, and for all that you do on behalf of the CSU and our students, California's future leaders.