Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - February 26, 2023

Mesa View Baptist Church, February 26, 2023
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
CSU Super Sunday Remarks (as prepared)

Good morning, Pastor Perkins, Lady Teresa Perkins and to all of you here today. On behalf of the entire California State University family, thank you for inviting us into your spiritual home. I am so pleased to be here with you at Mesa View Baptist Church.

You are part of something big. Through the CSU's Super Sunday initiative, you are one of nearly 100 congregations across California who have helped us spread the message to more than a million Black and African American families that a college degree is affordable… within reach… transformational…and theirs for the taking. Together, we can spark big dreams, and lift and enrich our families and communities.

And this year's event is more meaningful than ever. This past summer, the CSU celebrated its first-ever Juneteenth Symposium in Los Angeles – and it was a beautiful sight. More than 600 enthusiastic participants packed the ballroom, while over 2,000 viewers tuned in online – all joined with a unity of purpose in ensuring the lasting success of our Black and African American students, current and future.

From that day forward, we've built momentum and redoubled our actions across our 23 universities to make sure African American students are welcomed…seen…heard…valued and supported as they pursue their dreams.

There has never been a better reason – or a better time – to invest in a CSU degree.

But lately – across the country – we've heard disheartening myths that a college degree isn't really worth it; that it's easy to get by without one. Especially after the pandemic, some feel that college is too expensive… or too hard to juggle with other obligations… or just not for them. In fact, college enrollment is down across the country, especially among students of color.

It's time to bust those myths and reverse the trend. I'm here to tell you that college really is the pathway to the stable, meaningful, high-paying, in-demand careers of our future.

More so than ever before, a degree provides security.

By 2030 – just seven years away – 40 percent of all California job openings will require a college degree. And as we saw after the 2008 recession, following an economic downturn, most job openings will be filled with candidates who have a degree.

The CSU provides a direct path to solid careers… and the support you need to get there.

In fact, I'm proud to report that a Cal State degree is the most affordable in the country. Eighty-four percent of our students receive financial aid, and nearly two-thirds have their full college tuition covered by non-loan aid. As a result, most CSU students graduate with zero debt.

And we make sure our students are connected with a range of support – from food and housing assistance, to tutoring, advising, mentorships, health and wellness services and cultural resource centers – to help them reach the finish line.

And it works! In May, we celebrated nearly 130,000 talented and diverse graduates, including nearly 4,800 grads who identify as African American. This is just the start – and we need your help to inspire, support and encourage many more.

We're the single largest producer of teachers in the state. We award more than half of the state's bachelor's degrees in business, engineering, public administration and criminal justice… and nearly half of the degrees in the health professions, nursing and media… Three out of four agriculture degrees and 90 percent of the state's hospitality degrees are from the CSU. All in all, there are more than 1,400 career paths to choose from.

And these Cal State graduates typically earn a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those with a high school diploma. Our universities regularly earn national recognition for social mobility – dramatically improving the economic circumstances for our students and their families.

It's a story that's familiar to me…because it's my own!

I was born and raised in the small, rural town of Plato, Minnesota. And by small, I mean “no stoplights" small. My dad was an auto mechanic and my mom stayed home with me and my four younger siblings. Neither of my parents had finished high school.

In Plato, everyone had the same skin color and followed the same small-town norms. Young girls like me were never encouraged to consider a future outside of the home… or a future outside of Plato, for that matter.

But I was talkative. I was curious. I was inquisitive about why some things happened…and some things didn't. And I had a strong sense that I was different in some way, but I could not understand how or why.

Fortunately for me, in 7th grade I gained access to new books, ideas and classes that gave me a peek at the outside world. And I met the first of many mentors – my speech teacher Mr. Pickering – who helped me look beyond my insecurity and inexperience to see my own strengths and college potential. These mentors transformed my life.

And today, it is my honor to “pay it forward," leading a team of nearly 56,000 faculty, staff and campus leaders who are helping our own diverse students – students like those of you in the audience – see their own college potential and pursue their own dreams.

Parents, grandparents, family members, and church community – each of you can be a tremendous help… at home, around the dinner table, in our schools, in the community and here in church… by encouraging our youth with the message that they can go to college and by providing the support needed to make it a reality. College is important and valuable…and it can open the door to lifelong opportunities, security and prosperity.

Whether you're the first in your family to attend, looking to transfer from a community college, or an adult who wants more for yourself and your career – you can earn your degree. It's never too late, and we look forward to helping you build knowledge, skills and relationships that last a lifetime.

I encourage you to take the next step and learn more. Please do not miss the opportunity to speak with a college representative from San Diego State in the foyer after the service.

Thank you again for inviting me here today.