Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - October 12, 2021

Latino Leadership in the Valley
Brief Remarks – CSU Update
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
October 12, 2021

Thank you, Malia, and good morning! It’s great to be with you today and among so many longtime friends.

Latino Leadership in the Valley is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. As most of you know, Artie and I created this group back in 2017 as a way to bring together Latino leaders from across professions and sectors, in a welcoming space where we can get to know one another, discuss common issues and support each other for the benefit of the entire community – and I couldn’t be happier to see it going strong almost five years later.

And I am also happy to share that the CSU is a direct beneficiary of the group’s extraordinary work as many of you know, Yamillette Rodriguez – a founding board member of the Central Valley Latino Leadership Academy – was recently appointed by Governor Newsom to serve on the CSU’s Board of Trustees and I am certain that the leadership skills she honed in the Central Valley, along with her compassionate heart and her dedication to the Cal State mission and core values, will benefit our students, and our state, for many years to come.

This morning, it’s my pleasure to update you on the CSU – where we stand as we emerge from the pandemic, thoughts on a few of our priorities moving forward, and information about a few new programs that will help us to advance those priorities.

It was last December when my predecessor, Chancellor Emeritus White, and I jointly announced the CSU’s intention to return to primarily in-person classes and activities this fall. While I have to admit that there were a few moments while monitoring the public health data when I wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to pull that off, I’m pleased to report that we’ve been largely successful in achieving that goal. And with a vaccination mandate in place, as well as strong masking policies, extensive testing, and strict sanitation protocols, we’ve been able to do so while safeguarding the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.

And through the pandemic, our students have continued to thrive. In fact, last May, almost 133,000 students earned degrees across our 23 campuses – an all-time high. Graduation and persistence rates are also at record highs for students from all backgrounds.

My time this morning is far too short to appropriately thank everyone who helped make this happen:

  • Our world-class faculty who collectively engaged in more than a quarter million hours of professional development to deliver a robust virtual teaching and learning experience;
  • Our staff, who converted a full array of student-support services to online modalities and showed remarkable compassion and creativity in helping our students meet their basic needs in the midst of a global public health crisis and great economic uncertainty; and
  • Our elected officials, who provided extraordinary support for our campuses and students, including emergency relief grants, which the CSU supplemented with additional funding so that all students – including DACA and international students who weren’t eligible for federal aid – could receive financial relief.

But, of course, the credit really belongs to our students who again and again demonstrated ingenuity, adaptability, endurance, resilience and resolve to overcome the historic and unprecedented challenges of the past year and a half. It’s something I will always admire and never forget.   

And while we’re rightfully proud of our successes through the pandemic, there remains much work to do. At the top of the list is eliminating equity gaps. I mentioned earlier that graduation rates are at all-time highs for students from all backgrounds. However, stubborn gaps still exist between the graduation rates of students of color, first-generation students and low-income students and those of their peers.

So, one of my first acts as Chancellor back in January was to form an advisory committee to develop recommendations for strategic solutions to completely eliminate these equity gaps, interventions, precisely timed and tailored, so that their benefit reaches those who need it the most – and when they most need it. This effort will require a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability, frank and honest discussions about what’s working and where we are falling short, with earnest collaboration and data-sharing between and among campuses so we can all benefit from those who are succeeding.

In just two weeks I’ll be announcing a systemwide action plan for implementing the advisory committee’s recommendations and for ensuring that every CSU student has the equal opportunity to earn the lifelong and life-transforming benefits of a Cal State degree.

I also want to highlight two new initiatives that I am particularly excited about and which hold great potential to advance both student success and educational equity. We’ve long known that one high-impact way to enhance student success and equity is to help our students bridge the digital divide – and the past 19 months have powerfully driven this point home.

Through our new See Success initiative, every incoming first-year or transfer student at participating campuses has the opportunity to receive – completely free of charge – a new iPad Air, Apple Pencil and Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, which will be theirs to use for the entirety of their CSU undergraduate college experience. Currently rolling out at eight campuses participating in phase one – Channel Islands, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Cal Maritime, Northridge, San Marcos and at Central Valley campuses Bakersfield and Fresno – See Success has the potential to support 35,000 students. Even in its initial phase, it will be one of the largest device-distribution programs of its kind.

We will carefully track the program’s impact on retention and graduation rates and through experiential research with student participants. See Success has already proven to be extremely well-received by our students, and I wholeheartedly believe it will be a game-changer in terms of student success, especially for our most vulnerable students. And I am confident that the results will inspire additional campuses across the CSU to join future phases.

I also want to highlight another program that has the potential to quickly become a national model – our new Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub on our Northridge campus. The Hub is the result of a unique public-private partnership, made possible through a 25-million-dollar allocation in the 2021-22 California state budget and a 25-million-dollar gift from Apple. Apple will also support the Hub with advanced technology, design support and thought partnership as the project expands.

The Hub will drive student success and equity on a national scale by transforming the way Hispanic Serving Institutions across the country approach STEM education, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, equipping Latino and other diverse students with skills and pathways for successful careers in these high-demand fields. And it will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, too, by hosting middle and high school students and their families.

I want to emphasize that while CSUN – as one of the largest and most successful HSIs in the nation – serves as the Hub’s host campus, all CSU campuses are encouraged to participate in this consequential initiative.

I’ll keep my remarks brief so that we can spend the rest of my time this morning in conversation. I am happy to answer any questions you might have. But first I want to again recognize your vital and important work – work that benefits the entire Central Valley community as it inspires and elevates current and future Latino leaders. Please consider me a resource and know that I am always available to support you in any way that I can. With that, Malia, would you please lead the Q&A?