Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - September 13, 2022

Meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees, September 13, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Chancellor's Report (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong.

Before I begin my remarks, I want to join the chair in offering my warmest welcome to Trustees Gilbert-Lurie and Vargas, as well as Presidents Quiñones and Lee.

And I also want to echo Chair Fong in recognizing and congratulating this year's police commendation award recipients. I have read of their courageous, skillful and, in several cases, life-saving actions – Chair Fong just highlighted a few. I want to thank these extraordinary officers for their heroism. And I want to offer my appreciation to all of the CSU's police officers for their critically important work. Yours is an essential and difficult job – and on occasion, a thankless one. Today is not one of those occasions.

Thank you all!

On August eleventh, I was honored to attend the U.S. Department of Education's “Raising the B.A.R." event in Washington, D.C., where I was joined by Presidents Thomas Parham and Fram Virjee. (President Nelsen had also planned to attend, but like countless others, he fell victim to one of the many flight cancellations that have plagued air travel of late.)

The event brought together leaders of colleges and universities, higher education systems and other educational organizations from across the country. It was a group of very disparate institutions – public, private, two-year and four-year. But we were united in one very important respect – our collective commitment to inclusive excellence, educational equity and social mobility.

It was a packed agenda and an extraordinarily productive and informative day, with discussions on topics ranging from expanding educational on-ramps and pathways to meeting students' holistic needs, cross-institutional collaboration, and college affordability, among others. (Presidents Parham and Virjee helped lead two of these discussions, and I will ask them to share their reflections in just a moment.)

But what I was struck by most – and continue to be struck by – were the remarks given by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. He called on America to embrace a new vision of college excellence while chastising well-resourced schools that “chase rankings." The Secretary emphatically defined college excellence by – and I quote – “the measures that matter: college completion, economic mobility and narrowing gaps in access to opportunity for all Americans," rather than selectivity or current rankings.  

Frankly, I was as awed as I was gratified. The nation's highest-ranking education official has – in no uncertain terms – equated excellence in higher education with equity, inclusiveness, social mobility and student success. It was a truly amazing moment – perhaps an inflection point – and one like no other I have experienced in my more than four decades in higher education. And I am hopeful that this portends great things to come, knowing that policy proclamations such as these are often followed by meaningful programmatic action and financial support.

Before I continue, I would like to ask Presidents Parham and Virjee to offer a few reflections on the discussions they helped lead.

President Parham?

Thank you, President Parham. President Virjee?

Thank you, President Virjee – and thank you both for your valuable contributions to what was truly a singular and extraordinary event.

Before I leave the federal realm, I want to commend two recent actions by the Biden Administration: the plan for targeted college debt cancellation and the rule formally codifying the DACA program into regulatory code. The CSU welcomes steps toward reducing the financial burden of higher education and to supporting Dreamers, including the approximately ten thousand who are learning and working across our 23 universities. But as I express my support of these actions, I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to reiterate the CSU's federal priorities of increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000 – which would greatly reduce the need for CSU students to incur debt in the first place – and of working toward a bipartisan, permanent legislative solution to protect current and future DACA students across the CSU and across the country.

I will continue my theme of equity and inclusion, but with a few updates a bit closer to home.

Recognizing the pandemic's disproportionately adverse impacts on our state's most underserved students, last month members of our Academic and Student Affairs team discussed with university leaders our need and desire to re-envision the ways we support students in their transition from high school to college. We will explore new and innovative approaches as we look to enhance and amplify existing successful initiatives like our “summer bridge" and other similar programs. We'll also discuss – among other support initiatives – strategies for bringing our courses into high schools more equitably and intentionally through dual enrollment and providing even more robust professional development opportunities to our K-12 partners.

We also will extend this equity-based re-thinking to our ongoing discussions regarding the development of our students' quantitative skills. Instead of focusing on a change to our admission requirements, we anticipate exploring multiple strategies that prepare students with the critical skills necessary for a full range of academic pursuits and professions.

We've begun and will continue to engage faculty, students, campus leaders, K-12 partners and other stakeholders in this process, and we expect to bring these discussions to the board later this fall.

I've spoken to you in previous reports of the imperative that we honor the spirit and answer the call of our recent Juneteenth Symposium, avoiding complacency at all costs and committing to the ongoing action necessary to bring about meaningful change – generational, systemic change.

Leadership on our 23 universities took to heart the symposium's challenge to acknowledge, commit and transform, and are currently tailoring actions to address their campuses' specific challenges and leverage their unique strengths in serving Black and African American students.

But establishing the CSU as a nationwide leader in Black student recruitment, enrollment, persistence, retention and graduation requires action on a system level.

To that end, we have formed a systemwide team – tentatively called the Black Student Success Workgroup – led by Presidents Parham and Jiménez-Sandoval and comprised of academic and student affairs leaders and some of the CSU's foremost experts in diversity, equity, inclusion, student belonging, retention and community partnerships.

The team will lead a collaborative process to:

  • Identify and eliminate policies and practices that inhibit Black student success.

  • Disaggregate data to reveal and address disparities in educational outcomes and university experience.

  • Disrupt biases and assumptions brought into academic spaces, and

  • Increase faculty and employee development for equity-minded pedagogy.

This work is challenging. It will take time. But we will answer the call of the Juneteenth Symposium. And in doing so, the symposium will be elevated beyond a biennial event of reflection and celebration to an ongoing commitment to action and lasting change.

Inclusive excellence. Student success, intellectual and personal growth and well-being. Educational equity in all its dimensions. These foundational principles inform and inspire everything that we do. And, of course, they are the very heartbeat of our flagship student-success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025.

So it is only appropriate that I end my remarks with an invitation to all of you to attend our annual Graduation Initiative 2025 Convening – Transformational Change: One Student at a Time.

The virtual event will be held October 28, from 11 a.m. until noon. You'll hear updates regarding our progress toward meeting our graduation and equity goals, strategies for accelerating that progress and – most important – you'll hear from our students themselves. Their stories of achievement and perseverance are important. They are informative. And they are inspirational. Registration information is on the slide behind me – I hope you'll join me there.

Chair Fong, that concludes my report.