Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - October 22, 2021

Graduation Initiative 2025 Virtual Convening
Chancellor Castro’s Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro

Recording: October 15, 2021
Event: October 22, 2021

Introduction and Conversation with Isaac Alferos

What a way to get us started! Thank you so much, Dr. Son– I love your spirit! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here to kick off this event.

Ever since my participation in this convening as the chancellor-select last year, I’ve been looking forward to this gathering and to acknowledging and celebrating with you our resilience, our perseverance and our ganas as part of our Graduation Initiative 2025 efforts to help more students – especially those from underserved backgrounds – earn a life-changing CSU degree.

In these 10 months as chancellor, I’ve seen our CSU family go above and beyond in supporting our students who have themselves astounded us with their tenacity. This has been an incredibly challenging year. We’ve all worked hard in unfamiliar territory, and the stress and fatigue have been real. And yet we all have so much to be proud of.

Over the past year and a half, under trying circumstances that would make anyone feel overwhelmed and uncertain, I’ve been inspired by the extraordinary ingenuity, adaptability and resolve of the Cal State community. Through the sheer power of our 23 campuses working in unison, together we’ve ensured that nearly half a million students were provided the instruction and support they needed to maintain progress toward their degrees.

Thanks to our efforts and the grit and determination of our students, we have so much to celebrate. As Dr. Alva will share with you shortly, across the CSU our students continue to graduate at record rates, and, as Dr. Son noted, this year marks the largest graduating class in CSU history, with almost 133,000 students earning a high-quality college degree.

And now that we fully recognize and appreciate our transformative power, it’s time to level up. This doesn’t mean working harder or longer or faster. It means reimagining our roles in a brand-new way and targeting our strengths and resources. Let’s use our collective energy, let’s use the Power of the 23 to lead the nation and tackle the challenge of our time: let’s close equity gaps for good.

Indeed, for many of us – myself included – this is the challenge of a lifetime, to ensure that all students – regardless of their hometown or the amount of money in their pockets – have equitable opportunities to achieve academic success and a life of prosperity. This work could not be more critical – or closer to my heart – and I am so energized by our collective commitment as one university with 23 campuses to foster equity on behalf of our diverse and talented students.

And after so many months apart – I have to tell you, I can really feel the electricity in the air. Today’s event asks us to renew our commitment to advancing equity together and challenge ourselves to bring to life bolder and more innovative practices to help our incredible students and their families achieve their dreams of a college degree.

And perhaps you are like me, whenever I need a jolt – of humor, inspiration or clarity – I always find it in conversation with our students.

And so, who better to join me this morning to provide us with that jolt of energy and inspire us with his perspective than Cal State Student Association President Isaac Alferos. Isaac, great to see you this morning! We’re outside, we’re vaccinated, we’re Advancing Equity Together – I think this at least calls for an elbow bump!

Yes! For those of you who have not met Isaac, he is a business administration major at Cal State Fullerton and a tireless champion for educational access and equity. I’m delighted to have you here with me today!  Thank you so much for joining us!

  • So, you are now back on campus at Fullerton! What has the return to campus been like? Has anything been so different that it has taken you by surprise? Did you remember where the buildings are?
  • One of the reasons I love being in conversation with students like you is that I get to learn about what inspires your passion in the work you do. You’ve heard my story. I’m the great-grandchild of immigrants from Mexico—raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my hard-working single mom—a first-generation college student who attended UC Berkeley thanks to a program for students from disadvantaged neighborhoods. What fuels your passion to support our students?
  • Closing equity gaps across the CSU has been at the top of my priority list since I became chancellor, but I am especially interested in hearing your perspective – I have a feeling you might just say it best: Isaac: why do you feel it’s so important for the CSU to eliminate equity gaps?
  • I believe we must find joy while engaging in the hard work. So let me ask for your prediction on this one: do you think Fresno State will win against Nevada tomorrow?

Thanks so much for joining me, Isaac…it’s been a blast! Dr. Son – how did I do?

Closing – Introduction of Action Plan
Thank you again, Dr. Son!
The data shared by Dr. Alva is clear. It tells us that the status quo will not be sufficient to close equity gaps. It will take collective focus and intentional action, from every corner of our CSU community – to reimagine our policies, our programs, our interactions – and remove the barriers that stand in the way of our historically marginalized students. As the stewards of this great university, and the supporters of our students, we must commit to immediate and bold action.

As I mentioned to Isaac, this has always been a top priority, and indeed we have a moral imperative to do better for our students. So that’s why, today, I am announcing a powerful plan to accelerate our progress toward our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals, with a special focus on eliminating equity gaps.

This plan, developed in conjunction with an advisory committee of expert stakeholders from across our system, pinpoints actions that all campuses must tackle immediately. As just a few examples, the equity action plan calls for:

  • An immediate, systemwide reenrollment campaign with specific goals for bringing underserved students back to our universities beginning this spring. Consider this: Just eight of our campuses account for 57 percent of the students of color who have left us since fall 2019. Let’s reach out, find creative ways to reconnect and welcome them back to the CSU, and provide them with the support they need to get back on track.
  • We will also commit to providing all students with a clear, consistent roadmap to expertly guide them from orientation to graduation. Digital degree planners give students an accurate, real-time understanding of the courses they need to graduate, and real-time corrections when key academic milestones are missed. While these planners have provided tremendous support to our students, their availability and usage varies from campus to campus. That’s why we’re calling for these digital tools to be in place for every student on every campus by no later than this summer – and that these tools are accompanied by comprehensive communications plans to ensure that our students know about them, understand their benefits and put them to use. We can wait no longer to ensure every CSU student has access to a clear, consistent pathway to graduation.
  • And finally, we all know that what happens in the classroom during the first year plays a big role in whether students develop a sense of belonging on campus, gain academic confidence and ultimately earn their degree. But data show students of color and first-generation students are more likely to receive D’s, F’s or withdrawals in their first-year courses. For this reason, we aim to dramatically improve outcomes in those essential major-pathway courses with the highest enrollments of underserved students.

While these three focused actions provide a brief glimpse of the systemwide equity plan that will be shared at our November board meeting, we all know that support at the campus level is also critical. That’s why I have called on each of our campus presidents to assemble expert teams to develop their own ambitious, data-driven equity plans to help us eliminate equity gaps once and for all.

I extend my deep respect and gratitude to everyone on every campus who will be pushing these critical efforts forward.

Make no mistake. This work will be among the most challenging of our careers. It 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.

And for each of us, closing equity gaps will require us to dig deep into the same innovation, resourcefulness, curiosity and the ganas – that helped us discover new tools, skills and passions throughout our 19 months of virtual work. We’ve accomplished extraordinary feats – and we can do it again!

Most important, we must keep equity top-of-mind. It’s not just a word. It’s not just a task force. Equity is an essential, core CSU value that every one of us can and must protect and build through our work. Do what you can to make sure our most vulnerable students are seen, heard and supported. Make equity an ongoing topic at your staff meetings, no matter your role or department. Seek out professional development or webinars related to equity. Look for champions of equity on your own campus and support or replicate their strategies in your own sphere.

These are just a few ways we can take the bold actions necessary to achieve our GI 2025 goals. We must continue to hold high our shared belief that every student who trusts us with their hopes and dreams deserves the lifelong, life-transforming benefits that come with a Cal State degree, and the opportunity to make their mark in their communities, across the state and around the globe.

We can, quite literally, change the world by Advancing Equity Together. And your help will make all the difference.

Dr. Son, back to you to close it up!