Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – March 23, 2021

Dr. Joseph I. Castro – March 23, 2021
Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Board of Trustees Meeting
Plenary Session Remarks (as prepared)
Via Zoom
March 23, 2021

Thank you, Chair Kimbell.

This morning, in my opening remarks, I provided a brief budget update and spoke of how the CSU consistently delivers a “powerful and proven" return on state investment. Specifically, I was referring to additional investment in our Graduation Initiative 2025, with the return being in the form of improved retention and graduation rates, as well as the closing of equity gaps between first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color and their peers.

Of course, we assess the CSU's return on the investment – or ROI – by any of a variety of measures: degrees earned, national value or “bang for the buck" rankings and social mobility statistics. These are just a few examples.

My favorite Cal State ROI metric is perhaps a little more subjective, but certainly no less meaningful: it's the stories I hear daily…of lives transformed, family trajectories forever changed, potential realized and dreams fulfilled – thanks to the benefits of a CSU degree.

But today I want to focus on ROI in the more traditional sense: economic impact. The CSU is nearing completion of its third economic impact study – the first since 2010. It will not only confirm, but quantify, the CSU's varied and consequential contributions to California's economy – in terms of labor income, state and local tax revenue, job creation and dozens of other measures. The research is being finalized and the data will be released in the coming days. But not wanting to keep you entirely in suspense, I'll preview one of the report's most significant findings.

It's the classic ROI measure. The study finds that for every dollar the state invests in the CSU, the university returns almost seven dollars in economic output. That represents an almost 30 percent jump over 2010. And when the impact of the enhanced earnings of Cal State alumni is factored in, the CSU's ROI jumps to more than 23 dollars in total economic activity for every dollar invested by the state. (And on the topic of our alumni's enhanced earning power, I'll share one more of the study's findings that caught my eye: CSU alumni still active in California's workforce in 2019 earned incrementally higher earnings of 70.6 billion dollars because of their CSU degree.)

I highlight the ROI finding not only because it is an extraordinary rate of return, but also because it demonstrates the inextricable link between the CSU and California's current and future prosperity. And it is an indicator of the critical role the university will play in helping drive the state's economic recovery.

I encourage all of you to review the full economic impact study when it is released. It's an eye-opening and comprehensive research study – and a wonderful reflection on the CSU and our faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Since our last meeting, I've begun a bit of research of my own, having completed the first three of my planned visits to each of our 23 campuses in my first year as Chancellor.

I want to thank the entire campus communities at CSU Dominguez Hills, Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State LA for being such gracious hosts. The energy, the campus pride and the sense of community – even as so many of our classes, support services and activities remain virtual – were palpable at all three campuses, as was the resilience, adaptability and resolve of the students – and the faculty and staff who serve them.

I was struck by the enormous pride the Dominguez Hills community rightly feels in its rich history – a campus that rose from the ashes of the Watts Rebellion as a beacon of hope for higher education as a catalyst of change…a legacy the campus honors and advances every day as it transforms its students' lives and elevates the community it serves.

And the indispensable role Cal State San Bernardino plays as a vibrant educational, cultural and economic hub in its region, with almost 9 out of 10 students coming from the Inland Empire – and serving as a national leader in social mobility for a student body that is comprised of almost 84 percent first-generation students.

And Cal State LA, a national model for social mobility and the site of one of just two mass vaccination centers in California. I was particularly impressed by a virtual adaptation of War of the Worlds, which was led by faculty and performed by a group of students who were physically separated from one another, but brought together by their incredible creativity and innovative use of technology.

Of course, these are just a few lingering impressions. I could spend many hours recounting all of the accomplishments, innovations, challenges, needs and plans for a bright future that were discussed during these visits. Each has been a wonderful listening and learning opportunity for me – and I am sure they will continue to inform and enrich my tenure as Chancellor.

And while I value and am grateful for each meeting with every campus constituency, the conversations I shared with the campuses' students stand out. They have faced so many challenges – they have endured so much. They recounted stories of such suffering – the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, homelessness, food insecurity, isolation and the realities of the digital divide.

Of course — and tragically — their stories are shared by so many across our state and nation and my heart goes out to all who have suffered. But what was unexpected about these conversations with students was the heartbreaking simplicity of what they asked of me as Chancellor. They asked for understanding. Compassion. Empathy. Flexibility.

I pass their words on to you today. I am sure they will linger with you as they have with me. I urge all of us at the CSU to consider these words — understanding, compassion, empathy, flexibility — as guideposts as we continue to navigate this historic moment in time.

In closing, I would be remiss if I stepped away from the podium this afternoon without thanking Garrett Ashley for his 12 years of truly distinguished service as Vice Chancellor of University Relations and Advancement. Garrett, we are grateful that the CSU and its students will continue to benefit from your expertise in your new role as Senior Advisor to Cal State Fullerton's President Fram Virjee. We will properly celebrate your tenure at the Chancellor's Office in just a few minutes, but for now, I simply wish you the very best in all that is next – you will be greatly missed.

I also want to thank Larry Salinas for agreeing to serve in the Interim Vice Chancellor position. Larry will be in the position for at least a year as we conduct a nationwide search for a new vice chancellor – a search that will begin this fall. I've known Larry and his work for more than two decades. He provided me with thoughtful and trusted counsel as a member of my cabinet at Fresno State, and has continued to do so since January as my senior advisor here at the ​Chancellor's Office. I know the URA team will benefit from his wealth of experience. Larry, thank you for stepping up to assume this important role at this most critical time for the CSU.

Chair Kimbell, that concludes my report.