Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - December 14, 2022

Chief Administrators and Business Officers (CABO) Meeting, December 14, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)

Thank you very much, Steve [Relyea]…and good afternoon, everyone! It's a great pleasure to be with you today.

It's a pleasure because it gives me the opportunity to thank you and express my deep appreciation for all your support during the first seven-plus months of my tenure as interim chancellor, and for everything you do for the CSU and the students we are so privileged to serve.

Especially at this busy time of year, I also appreciate your commitment to carving out time to connect with and learn from one another: to share best practices and discuss pressing issues of common concern, and to plan strategically for our institution's bright future.

I hope all of you are able to enjoy some well-earned rest this holiday season with the ones you love - and please do so knowing that your work is appreciated, it is valued, and it matters.

I've had the privilege of meeting and speaking with many of you, but for those I haven't met, I thought I would begin with a few words of introduction.

I am serving the CSU as its interim chancellor as the search for the next regularly appointed chancellor is completed. It is a great honor. And it is a labor of love.

The CSU has been my professional home since 1983. I served at Sacramento State for 17 years, including as provost. And at CSUN, as president from 2000 to 2011 

Since retiring from the CSUN presidency, I have been a consultant and executive coach, working with hundreds of presidents and academic leaders from universities throughout the CSU and across the nation.

My love for the CSU is rooted in the convergence of my personal values with those of this remarkable university system:

  • A belief in the individual and societal transformations that public higher education allows.​
  • The recognition that all people deserve​ access to higher education.
  • A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
​Additionally, the CSU has always allowed me to work and thrive through my fundamental values of respect, communication, compassion and earned trust.

I am gratified to know that this group shares those core values. Your work very tangibly enhances the quality of the Cal State learning and discovery experience…and it amplifies the life-changing power of a CSU degree.

The Work of CABO

During my time at Sacramento State, and more recently as president at CSUN, I learned firsthand about the exemplary work you perform in so many areas across our universities: in facilities management, public safety, financial services, financing and treasury, risk and emergency management, contracts and purchasing, and in technology.

Your work is perhaps sometimes unsung. But I know – and you know – it is mission critical. It is the absolutely essential bedrock that allows us to advance our academic mission as we collectively transform lives, families and communities in the process.

Your roles are complex, and I recognize that the ever-changing social, political, educational and economic landscape in California makes your responsibilities all the more challenging.  

As stewards of our university's limited resources, protectors of health and safety, and guardians of the public's trust, you are frequently called upon to make difficult decisions, often under stressful situations and with evolving or incomplete information…decisions where it is impossible to satisfy all stakeholders.

This was never more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of our universities' core response efforts fell on the shoulders of the campus CFOs.

Your teams quickly bridged the digital divide by providing technology to underserved students. You secured and distributed emergency student financial aid. You clearly and effectively advised campus leadership on local health and safety standards. You helped procure and distribute personal protective gear and implemented vaccine requirement protocols, making our 23 universities some of the safest environments in the state.

I don't think it is an overstatement to label these actions “heroic."

While your focused and creative COVID-19 response helped see us through the most challenging season in our university's 62-year history, it is just one example of your innovative and mission-driven work.

I am thrilled, for example, to hear of your progress on the CSUBuy Procure to Pay Project, which promises to bring immeasurable benefit to the system by creating a strategic, standardized procurement process that increases efficiencies, mitigates risk, and ensures cost savings through leveraged deals and strategic partnerships.

I'd like to extend my appreciation and recognition to the universities that are participating along with the Chancellor's Office in Wave One, including Bakersfield, Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma. These pilot campuses continue to provide invaluable recommendations and feedback on key processes.

I am also grateful for the extraordinary coordination among numerous stakeholders, from our accounting, budget and internal audit groups to IT – too many partners to list – that have made this project possible.

I'm excited to learn that testing is underway and an initial version of CSUBuy is expected to go live next summer, with Wave Two to follow. Well done! I will watch for the continued success and expansion of this promising system.

And in line with your efforts to increase efficiencies and cost savings for our universities, I am grateful for our continued exploration of shared services, a meaningful step toward to ensuring a sustainable financial future for the CSU, perhaps the most critical systemwide priority.

Challenges Ahead

As I rightfully applaud your numerous and significant success, I recognize that you face a number of daunting challenges…challenges in the form of:The CSU's declining enrollment and its associated impact on revenue.An uncertain economy.Soaring energy, construction and other costs.

  • ​The CSU’s declining enrollment and its associated impact on revenue.
  • An uncertain economy.
  • Soaring energy, construction and other costs.
  • High turnover and recruitment challenges…to name just a few.

But you will wrestle to the ground these and all other challenges that come before you. Of this I am certain. I say this with confidence borne out of the remarkable vision, adaptability, ingenuity and creativity that you have consistently demonstrated through this extraordinary moment in our institution's – and our nation's – history. 

Priorities and Vision

And as you rise to meet these challenges, I want you to be aware of my own vision and priorities for my tenure as interim chancellor...and how they align with yours.

When I began my tenure in May and after careful consultation with every trustee – and all 23 presidents – I identified four overarching goals for my time as interim chancellor. I've shared them broadly, but want to share them with you now. They are: 

  1. To restore trust among all our constituencies, communicating frequently with and authentically listening to our stakeholders – including those of you here today. 
  2. To collaboratively evaluate and make appropriate improvements to our structures and processes within the Chancellor's Office, as we highlight and support the transformative work that takes place on our university campuses.
  3. To lead unified, clear and compelling advocacy for the resources necessary to advance our mission…resources our students, faculty and staff need and deserve. 
  4. And to lay the groundwork for the next regularly appointed chancellor by setting in motion actions to address our most critical strategic and operational challenges. 

To advance the final priority, in July I announced the formation of four workgroups tasked with preparing actionable strategic plans to address some of the CSU's most critical operational priorities:

  • Developing a more sustainable financial model;
  • Advancing innovative and effective systemwide and campus approaches to enrollment planning; ;
  • Recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse and world-class human resources; and 
  • Accelerating our progress toward meeting our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals, particularly to eliminate equity gaps.

Since that time, I have called for two additional workgroups – one charged with developing a new and more compelling narrative to support our budget advocacy and another to position the CSU as a nationwide leader in Black student outreach, recruitment, enrollment, persistence, success and graduation.

I am pleased to report that the workgroups have been formed – comprised primarily of university presidents and Chancellor's Office leadership, but also including systemwide subject matter experts.

All are on schedule to provide recommendations for action by April of next year. These recommendations that will provide a glide path for the next regularly appointed chancellor, enabling her or him to undertake immediate and effective measures regarding the matters most critically important to the CSU's future.

Before I close so that you can turn your attention to the next item on today's robust agenda, I would like to provide a brief update on three topics that I know are of great interest to you, two of which we've already touched upon today.

Strategic Enrollment Management

I earlier alluded to the CSU's enrollment circumstances. As my Chancellor's Office colleagues Brad Wells, Nathan Evans and April Grommo will discuss a little later, according to preliminary fall census figures, all CSU campuses are forecast to see a year-over-year decrease in enrollment or be below their enrollment target in 2022-23.

Systemwide, the CSU projects that it will be more than 25,000 full-time equivalent students – or 7% – below its funded 2022-23 California resident target at the conclusion of spring 2023. This includes the 2.5% or 9,434 FTES increase that was added to the CSU budget for 2022-23.

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. And a sustained decline in enrollment will also result in losses of tuition and campus fees, as well as negative financial impacts to campus auxiliaries, such as campus housing.

Indeed, significant financial repercussions are already being felt at the CSU universities that have experienced substantial enrollment declines over the past several years. However, our presidents and their leadership teams and Chancellor's Office staff are stepping up to meet our enrollment challenges and have taken quick and decisive action. Brad, Nathan and April will elaborate.

But I will share that these actions are already yielding results.

  • Not only is our enrollment of first-time, full-time students back up to pre-pandemic numbers, but we are also seeing an increase in applications. The deadline for our priority application filing period for fall 2023 has been extended from November 30th to December 15th, with some campuses extending beyond that. So far, the data is encouraging:
  • As of this week, we are seeing a year-over-year increase in applications. In fact, we have received more than 41,000 additional total applications from prospective undergraduate students over last year.
  • First-time, full-time student applications are up by more than eight percent.
  • And among transfer students – the population where we have seen the most significant drop in enrollment – the decline is leveling off somewhat, with applications down by less than four percent.

It's important to note, however, that these numbers are likely to shift slightly as we approach our extended campus deadlines.

Prospects for Next Year's Budget

Along with maximizing enrollment, we are now looking ahead to the 2023-24 state budget cycle. While it is still early, our Chancellor's Office budget team has been in regular communication with state officials to glean as much preliminary information as they can.

As you may have anticipated, California is seeing a softening in state tax revenues. So far this year, receipts are about 10% lower than expected, and the state is forecast to be down by $25 billion for 2023-24. Should the state enter into a recession, the Legislative Analyst's Office suggests this number may double or even triple.

Despite that news, our conversations with state officials have been positive.

To address shortfalls, the LAO is suggesting that the state not tap into the rainy-day fund but instead consider halting some of the new spending authorized in this year's budget. Importantly, the CSU has not been approached by the administration to identify any projects or programs that could be swept back by the state.

In short, we've received the message that the governor spent his first term supporting new programs, while his second term will be focused on ensuring these programs are accomplishing their intended goals.

At this point we fully expect that the governor's administration will continue to support the promises made in the CSU's multi-year compact.

Update on the Chancellor's Search

And finally, I'd like to provide an update on the search for the next regularly appointed chancellor.

The search will officially launch in January with the goal of announcing our new chancellor at the July 2023 Board of Trustees meeting. And you – along with stakeholders across our 23 universities the communities we serve – will be essential to the search.

When we return from the winter break, we will begin soliciting input from the broadest possible cross section of stakeholders – faculty, staff, students, campus leaders, alumni and partners – to define the qualities that will be most important in the CSU's next leader. This will include surveys, listening sessions and open forums beginning in February at various locations across the state.

I can't emphasize enough that we invite, encourage, need and greatly appreciate the participation from everyone here today. We value your input…and it will inform our search. And once we're armed with our stakeholders' feedback, be assured: we will not sit back and hope for the perfect candidate to materialize. Rather, we will assertively, thoroughly and resolutely identify, seek out and approach the strongest candidates from across our nation who reflect and demonstrate those essential qualities defined by the Cal State community – and who share and live out our core values. Please watch for updates in the new year.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon – and thank you for all that you do for the CSU and our students. I mentioned it earlier but it bears repeating: Your work is valued and appreciated. And your work matters.

I wish all you a restful winter break, the happiest of holidays and a healthy, bright and prosperous New Year.