Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - November 15, 2022

Meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees, November 15, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Chancellor’s Report (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong. I echo your remarks regarding Presidents Hutchinson and Nelsen – two exemplary leaders…who lead with brilliance, with courage and with heart. Your universities and the CSU are stronger for your service, and I look forward to our continued work together through the academic year.

In my first report to this board in May, I set forth my four priorities for my tenure as interim chancellor:

First, to restore trust with and among the board and our campus presidents, as well as with faculty, students and staff, the communities we serve, and those who partner with and support us in our vital work.

Second, to collaboratively assess and make appropriate improvements to our structures and processes within the Chancellor's Office, with an eye toward building a culture of inclusiveness, communication and collaboration and to develop and sustain a service orientation as we support the transformative work that takes place across our 23 universities.

Third, to lay the groundwork for the next regularly appointed chancellor by identifying and addressing the CSU's most critical operational and strategic challenges.

And, finally, to collectively and powerfully advocate for the resources necessary to advance our mission and to recruit, retain and fairly compensate a world-class team of faculty and staff. 

Chair Fong and I are aligned in these goals, and I thank the Chair for reviewing just now the many significant ways the board has acted quickly and decisively to advance these priorities. I also thank her – and her predecessor Trustee Kimbell – for their leadership in this collaborative work.

As you know from prior meetings, I like to use these reports to update you on the progress we are making toward our shared goals. This morning, I will do so again, albeit briefly so that I can address another important matter.

In July, I announced that we would form 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 and trustee representation in areas of special expertise. Three of the five have begun their work in earnest, with the Black excellence workgroup convening at the end of this month and the human resources group convening in the following weeks. All are on schedule to provide recommendations for action by April of next year…recommendations that will provide a glide path for the next regularly appointed chancellor, enabling her or him to undertake quick and effective measures regarding matters critically important to the CSU's future.

Also of critical importance is ensuring that we are communicating the CSU's remarkable story in ways that inspire and engage our stakeholders, from current and future students and their families to our own employees, partners, supporters and elected officials.

To that end, we are undertaking an assessment of the marketing and communications functions within the Division of University Relations and Advancement to review organizational structures, available resources and key workflow processes and to provide recommendations to ensure that staff has the best-in-class tools and practices they need to perform their work at the highest level.

I will continue to provide regular updates on our progress toward our shared goals priorities that have focused and informed my work since the start of my tenure.

However, all leaders face exigencies that emerge outside of even the most carefully and collaboratively developed strategic plan. And all good leaders reassess and reprioritize. They adjust to circumstances demanding immediate attention. Effective leaders – and effective institutions – adapt.

We now face a challenge that requires our collective and immediate attention, as well as our nimble and creative adaptation.

The CSU's enrollment data is currently being finalized, and we project that we will be more than 25,000 full-time equivalent students – or 7% – below our funded 2022-23 California resident target at the conclusion of spring 2023. This is reflective of a national trend and is driven primarily by a decrease in transfer students and changes in continuing student course-taking. In fact, the good news is that first-time, first-year enrollment has increased to more than 65,000 students and is back to pre-pandemic numbers. But the number of new transfer students is down by almost 12,000 from its peak in fall 2020.

I must emphasize: This is not a campus issue. This is now a system issue. Every Cal State campus is forecast to see a year-over-year decrease in enrollment or to be below their enrollment target in 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 campuses that have experienced substantial enrollment declines over the past several years.

It is time for urgent and immediate action.

But it is not a time to panic.

Effective leaders and effective institutions adapt.

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.

We've met with our partners in Sacramento – including the governor's office, Department of Finance, Senate and Assembly staff, and the Legislative Analyst's Office – to apprise them of both our challenges and the opportunities before us. They understand that declining enrollment is not unique to the CSU but rather a national trend, and that demographic changes, which were previously in motion, have been compounded by pandemic impacts.

The Chancellor's Office senior leadership team has met with all CSU campus presidents, provosts, vice presidents for student affairs, senior diversity officers and chief business officers to review current data and projections, share reflections and best practices and to begin to develop strategies to maximize applications and yield, and to increase student retention rates and average unit loads, both in the short- and long-term.

A CSU-sponsored measure, Assembly Bill 2973, was recently enacted into law, simplifying the process for campuses seeking to discontinue level or program admission impaction. Several campuses have already elected to discontinue impaction for spring 2023 and/or fall 2023.

We've augmented statewide student outreach and recruitment programming and communications and deepened partnerships with the California College Guidance Initiative and Educational Advisory Board.

The CSU has also entered into a partnership with LA Unified to better support schools that have low college-going rates – and we are exploring opportunities for similar partnerships across the state.

And we continue to work to streamline the transfer pipeline from California Community Colleges to the CSU.

These – and other actions – are already yielding results.

In fact, as of this morning, there are approximately 117,000 more applications in-process from prospective students than this time last year…although transfer applications continue to lag.

But while I am indeed heartened by the positive signs our work has produced, it is clear and must be repeated: a sustained enrollment decline represents a fundamental and significant threat to our very mission. We need all constituents – on the system and campus levels – to be a part of this work. Faculty, staff and administration must work in partnership across the entire student lifecycle – from outreach and enrollment marketing to enhancing yield, improving retention rates and increasing average unit loads. We will get there. But we must get there together.

About three weeks ago, Governor Newsom's office issued a press release citing a Bloomberg study indicating that California is poised to overtake Germany to become the world's fourth largest economy. It's an utterly remarkable finding.

To those of us in the CSU, it becomes even more remarkable on further reflection.

Again and again, we have heard from industry leaders that one of the primary drivers of our state's economy is its educated and diverse workforce. I've heard it described on more than one occasion as “California business' greatest competitive advantage."

And just as California's educated and diverse workforce drives the state's economy, the CSU drives that workforce. One out of 10 California employees holds a degree from one of our 23 universities. California's leading companies and organizations – those powering our economy – rely on Cal State graduates. I'll share just a few examples. More than 7,000 of Apple's global employees are CSU grads. 6,000 work at Northrup Grumman. More than 4,000 Cal State alumni are employed by Disney and Google. And more than 2,500 work at each of Oracle, Intel and Cisco.

You might say that, in some respects, California's resilient economy is “Made in the CSU."

This is what inclusive excellence – at scale – looks like. And this is what California's continued economic vitality demands.

So – whether you are a CSU employee or a friend or partner – I ask that you consider the extraordinary implications of our work to address our enrollment challenges. And I ask that you join us in that effort.

Chair Fong, that concludes my report.