Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - February 21, 2023

Assembly Budget Subcommittee #2 Hearing, February 21, 2023
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Brief Introductory Remarks (as delivered)

Chair McCarty and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, alongside my esteemed colleagues from the University of California and the California Community Colleges.

My name is Jolene Koester and I am the interim chancellor of the California State University. Since this is my first opportunity to appear before this body, allow me to begin with a few introductory comments of a more personal nature.

It has been my honor to serve as chancellor for less than one year. However, the California State University has been my professional home for more than 40 years at two universities – Sacramento State and California State University, Northridge – and across a variety of academic and administrative leadership positions, including nearly 12 years as president at the Northridge campus. Since retiring from CSUN in December 2011, I've provided executive coaching services to hundreds of university presidents and other executive team leaders across the nation and within the CSU.

With that perspective, I agreed to return as interim chancellor for one simple reason: I believe in the CSU. I believe in its unique power – the unique power to transform lives and communities and to drive California's economic and social prosperity.

If you aren't yet an enthusiastic and wholehearted believer in the CSU, allow me to point out several reasons why you should be…as I am.

The CSU is an open escalator to opportunity. It is the nation's most powerful driver of social mobility, with its universities regularly appearing at the top of national rankings for graduating economically disadvantaged students into well-paying jobs… and in many cases breaking generational cycles of poverty and wholly and permanently transforming family trees.

And as for powering California's prosperity, we know that our state's educated workforce is the driver of what is projected to soon become the world's fourth-largest economy…and that this unparalleled workforce is our business community's greatest competitive advantage. As the nation's largest four-year public university, the CSU fuels that workforce at an unmatched scale and with a vibrant and dynamic diversity. In fact, one out of every 10 California employees is a Cal State graduate.

Through the pandemic and, yes, through a time of transition in executive leadership, the CSU has continued to deliver on its mission – awarding nearly 130,000 high-quality, high-value degrees in 2022 with graduation rates at or near all-time highs at all universities and for most student groups.

My primary job as interim chancellor is to build a glidepath for the CSU's next regularly appointed chancellor so that our next leader is positioned to accelerate the CSU's positive momentum in key priority areas. First, advancing student success and educational equity will always remain our primary goal. Second, we must create safe and supportive environments for learning and discovery, and we must reimagine our approaches to enrollment management and resource allocation. Finally, but no less important, we must recruit, retain and fairly compensate a diverse, world-class team of faculty and staff who reflect and connect with the students we serve.

We are extremely grateful for Governor Newsom's recent budget proposal. He has honored the commitments of the multi-year compact announced last year, despite the state's current fiscal challenges. The compact is an important milestone for California and for the CSU, providing us with an invaluable element of financial sustainability and predictability for several years to come.

The budget proposal demonstrates the administration's firm commitment to higher education and its unwavering belief in the CSU's mission, and for that I am – we are – deeply appreciative.

The compact's budget augmentation will allow us to continue to advance many of the priorities I outlined a moment ago. But, of course and as always, the CSU stands ready to do more, for our current and future students, for our employees, and for the communities we serve. There are three areas of the most acute need:

  • First, we must provide competitive salaries and benefits so that we can recruit and retain faculty and staff who support, inspire and uplift our diverse and talented students. The CSU is committed to making continued progress in this area, but we must do so prudently, incrementally and within the resources made available by this year's final state budget – we cannot compromise our academic mission.
  • Second, we will continue to expand the work of Graduation Initiative 2025 to support the CSU's broader mission to advance educational equity so that all students have the equal opportunity to earn the lifelong, life-transforming benefits of a CSU degree.
  • And third, we must ensure safe, modern and sustainable facilities where teaching, learning and student well-being can thrive. This committee is well aware of the condition of many of our campuses. More than half of our buildings are over 40 years old and in dire need of significant improvement or replacement.

Before I wrap up my comments, a few other issues are top of mind…for me and likely for you.

You certainly have heard news of student enrollment challenges at the national level and now at the state level. Systemwide, the CSU projects that it will be more than 21,000 full-time equivalent students – or 7% – below its funded 2022-23 resident target at the conclusion of spring 2023. A sustained decline in enrollment throughout the CSU system presents fundamental and significant threats to our mission, the viability of our universities and the future of the communities we serve. This is a system issue that requires a collective and coordinated system response. We are focused not only on enrolling new students and helping them to maintain optimal unit loads, but we are also redoubling efforts to retain our continuing students by providing the academic programming and support services they need to succeed, and we are working to re-enroll students who have left our university.

We have also recently launched an enrollment target and budget reallocation plan that is a central element of our comprehensive and collective response, with the system reallocating resources, over time, to align those with the realities of student demand, population demographics and with enrollment trends that have existed at several universities for many years.

Finally, it is critically important for the CSU to establish greater long-term fiscal predictability and sustainability. The multi-year compact is already proving to be helpful in this regard. But the CSU's path to long-term fiscal stability must also address tuition, fees and alternative revenue sources. So I have established a Sustainable Financial Model Workgroup whose core charge is to explore – with depth and creativity – the cost of our operations and of attendance, as well as all potential revenue options and to issue recommendations so that the CSU's next chancellor is equipped to engage additional stakeholders and take quick action to adopt an innovative, long-term revenue plan.

Chair McCarty and committee members, thank you again for the opportunity to address you today. I look forward to answering any questions you might have.

Most importantly, please know that I am always available to discuss how the California State University can be a resource to you as you continue to explore ways to develop California's workforce, support public higher education and address the myriad important issues currently facing our great state.​