Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – March 5, 2021

Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership
Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Chancellor, The California State University
Remarks (as prepared)
March 5, 2021


Thank you, Pastor Baca and good morning, everyone. I want to begin by offering my heartfelt thanks to Reverend Miranda – and to everyone at the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership – for the opportunity to speak with you today on one of my favorite topics: improving educational opportunities for Latino students so that they may fully realize their power, promise and potential. The Miranda Center is certainly a leader in this regard, ably carrying out the legacy and vision of your legendary founder, Jesse Miranda.

I'm excited to join you all for this important discussion.

On January 4th, I was honored to begin my service as the eighth Chancellor of the California State University, the largest and most diverse four-year public university in our country, representing more than 485,000 students at 23 campuses across California. I consider advancing the success of first-generation, low-income and students of color to be one of my greatest privileges and responsibilities. and one of our university's most treasured core values and consequential achievements.

Specifically, I am thrilled to share with you today the CSU's many successes and associated benefits in garnering federal status and financial support as Hispanic-Serving Institutions. I do so in hopes that you will find this information useful – perhaps even inspiring – for your own institutions. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it will take bold leadership, an authentic and transparent evaluation of our past systems and processes and a commitment to equity and collaborative engagement at every level of our institutions to make sure we are preparing all students to power our nation's recovery and take part in its future prosperity.

As you may know, the federal Minority-Serving Institution designation was created more than 20 years ago in an effort to direct federal resources, services and grants to colleges and universities serving historically underrepresented students. Today, there are a number of federal MSI designations including, for example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions.

Institutions qualify for these designations based on enrollment calculations that consider the race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status of their students.

But simply qualifying for MSI designation isn't enough. At the CSU we have found that it requires a commitment to equity throughout our organization, an assertive pursuit of grants, and a steady, data-driven activation of resources and services to help the maximum number of students from all walks of life earn the transformative benefits of a college degree.

This is very much a personal mission for me because, many years ago, I was one of those students.

I am the grandson of a Dreamer from Michoacán, Mexico, whose father – my great-grandfather – had come to the United States almost a century ago to help build the railroad. My grandparents were farmworkers. Together with my single mother they raised me, working hard to give me the opportunities they didn't have.

I was the first in my family to go to college, attending UC Berkeley as part of a program that recruited students from the Central Valley and from modest financial means.

Thanks to this opportunity – and the example set by my mother and grandparents – I've had the privilege of dedicating my life to working hard and serving others in an effort to break the cycle of poverty for California families like my own and to transform lives through the power of higher education.

Since my great-grandfather's arrival nearly a century ago, America's Latino population has grown dramatically, particularly in the Mexican border states. According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos account for more than half of our country's population growth over the past decade, reaching a record 60.6 million residents – or 18 percent of the U.S. population – as of 2019. California now boasts the largest population of Latinos in the country, with more than a quarter of America's Latino residents – nearly 16 million – calling the Golden State home.

This growth is reflected on every one of the CSU's 23 campuses. In fact, Latino students became the university's largest ethnic group, comprising a third of the undergraduate students in our system, as of 2012. And today – just nine years later – Latino students comprise almost half of the CSU's student body – nearly 200,000 students. That's nearly a 60 percent increase in under a decade.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, according to our most recent figures, these students continue to navigate hardships that many of their peers do not. 65 percent of our Latino students are from low-income households and 74 percent are first-generation students.

Despite these challenges, Latino students are among our brightest and most engaged – they are student leaders at all levels of our university and they are active in volunteerism, serving the communities in which our campuses are embedded. Beyond that, members of the Latino community are some of our most involved and generous alumni, and they are gifted faculty, dedicated staff and visionary leaders at the highest campus and systemwide levels.

For decades, the CSU has diligently pursued federal Hispanic-Serving Institution status to secure funding, opportunities and support for these deserving scholars. Ten years ago, 14 of our campuses were designated as HSIs. Today, 21 CSU campuses have achieved HSI status, with the remaining two – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Maritime – well on their way.

And today, our moral imperative to support students of color has never been more urgent, as underserved communities continue to endure social injustice, disparate health outcomes and economic uncertainty exacerbated by the pandemic. Permanently eradicating equity gaps between low-income and historically underserved students and their peers is essential to creating a diverse workforce and rebuilding a robust middle class that includes Americans from all backgrounds.

We feel it is our duty to make sure CSU graduates are well-equipped to join California's economy, the 5th largest in the world and to help California meet its projected demand for at least 1.3 million additional degree-holders by the year 2030.

According to The Campaign for College Opportunity, these graduates will earn a million dollars more through their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma — and they are far less likely to be unemployed. There is no doubt that a college degree provides strong protection against economic downturn.

Fortunately, advancing higher education opportunities among communities of color is a mission that is, for the most part, shared by our elected officials – on both sides of the aisle – with our leaders maintaining a largely bipartisan commitment to Minority-Serving Institutions.

This longstanding support has never been more evident than during the pandemic. Over the past year, Congress has authorized two emergency COVID-19 relief bills. The higher education provisions have been heavily weighted toward assisting institutions that serve large numbers of low-income students, providing an estimated 1.3 billion dollars in direct support to the CSU and its students.

In addition to this relief, Congress designated another 2.75 billion specifically for our country's Minority-Serving Institutions. For the CSU, this has meant an additional 93 million dollars to date. A third relief bill working its way through Congress would build upon these totals. For example, the House Education Committee has proposed an additional national allotment of 3 billion dollars for Minority-Serving Institutions, which would send about 93 million dollars to CSU campuses.

At the same time, the federal government continues to provide competitive grant funding to Minority-Serving Institutions through several agencies. In recent years, the CSU's 23 campuses competed for – and received – 100 million dollars in U.S. Department of Education grants, a million dollars from the Department of Agriculture, and 15 million dollars from the National Science Foundation, all designated specifically for Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

These targeted grant projects directly support the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025, our flagship student-success effort to close equity gaps and improve graduation rates for all students by supporting summer bridge programs in English and mathematics to close achievement gaps among first-year students, providing more intentional counseling and advisement programs, creating immersive, hands-on experiences to drive engagement and retention, opening doors to research opportunities and mentorships and preparing students of color for the high-paying, in-demand fields of the future.

To give just two examples:

At Chico State, data showed that students of color were disproportionately affected by low pass rates in some of the university's larger introductory STEM courses, leading many to leave the field. Thanks to a 2.2-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, these courses now incorporate hands-on research experiences to help build students' connections with peers and faculty, hone their skills and begin to identify as scientists. 

And through the CSU Agricultural Research Institute funded by the million-dollar Department of Agriculture grant, students at four CSU campuses receive paid fellowships to conduct cutting-edge research to ensure the future sustainability of California agriculture.

I must note that while this grant funding is much appreciated, it is finite and as more colleges and universities across the country pursue HSI status, we will continue to advocate for greater federal investment to meet the growing demand for these vital and transformative programs.

The positive impact of these programs – in California and across the nation – is indeed remarkable.

For the academic year 2019-2020, the CSU awarded more than 44,000 bachelor's degrees to Latino students. In fact, 62% of the total number of bachelor's degrees earned by Latinos in California are CSU degrees, 64% of the CSU's engineering degrees are earned by Latino students, 66% of the business degrees and 53% of those in life sciences, including nursing.

And behind the numbers, each degree represents a success story.

Lisa Serrano attended Arroyo High School in the working-class, largely Latino community of El Monte, clinging to her C average so she could stay on the cheerleading squad. Her mom and dad lived happily, as an administrative assistant and a truck driver, and Lisa simply didn't see herself as college material.

Until one day, sitting in the parking lot of Cal Poly Pomona, her friend – who was filling out an application of his own – encouraged her to apply. It was easy, he said. Just a page or two.

Lisa applied, was accepted and, thanks to encouragement from her brother, she connected on her very first day with Cal Poly's Science Educational Enhancement Services – or SEES – a program designed to support and engage historically underserved students and remove barriers to their success. With access to advisors, peer mentors and activities that supported her sense of belonging, Lisa soon joined Cal Poly's Chicano/Latino Pre-Medical Student Association and was elected Vice President of the College of Science Student Council while earning her bachelor's degree in biology.

Today, Dr. Serrano is an emergency and clinical pharmacist treating cancer patients at the City of Hope National Medical Center. She is a published research scientist who has contributed to the fight against leukemia and glioblastoma, a founding board member of the National Hispanic Pharmacists Association… and a mentor to hundreds of up-and-coming interns and residents. Her favorite quote is my new favorite quote: “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create."

As educational institutions, we have the opportunity and privilege to create leaders who will, in turn, inspire future generations of leaders.

And as we do, we are in the unique position to elevate not only individuals, but their families, our communities – our nation – through the power of higher education.

Much work remains to be done – to improve academic preparation and access, to ensure educational equity, to promote STEM education and to permanently eradicate opportunity gaps. But we'll get there – we won't rest until we do.

I look forward to all that we can accomplish together in the years ahead.

Thank you again for allowing me to share the CSU story with you today – and for everything you do to help future generations write their own remarkable stories.

And now, I am happy to answer any questions you might have. Reverend Miranda?