Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good
“Challenges and Opportunities: Conversations about Immigration and Higher Education”
June 13, 2007
University of Michigan

Thank you, Debra (Ball, Dean of the School of Education, University of Michigan), for that introduction.

Thank you for inviting me to talk about immigration, a topic that is often at the top of the national, state and local news, at least in California. And it is good to see it get this much attention, especially if it leads to action, and not just more talk and stalled legislation.

Immigration is one of those hot button issues that people, no matter their background, have an opinion on, and they usually are quite ready to tell you what that opinion is. It is also an issue that is far more complicated than the superficial way it sometimes is dealt with.

A recent New York Times/CBS Poll, for instance, found that a majority of Americans want the immigration laws to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status, and to create a new guest worker program.

However, Americans are not sure about whether recent immigrants benefit the country or take from it. Some economists have found that illegal immigrants contribute billions to the Social Security Administration without receiving any benefits. But then other organizations have reported research that shows that these undocumented workers are a drain on the country’s economy.

There is no shortage of opinions on this topic.

For those of us in California, immigration is a daily issue, as it is in several of the other border states. However, it is just not the border states because immigrants, both legal and illegal, reside in every state.

This is a national issue, especially when it comes to education, both K-12 and higher education.

This country is still a sought-after place to live and work, and immigrants often endure many hardships to get here and stay here. It is especially difficult for their children, many of who had no choice when or how they came to the United States.

That is what we want to talk about today – those who are here and how we can educate them and get them into the workforce. And secondly, how we can support legislation that will help future immigrants.

We cannot fail to educate the current estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. If we as educators fail to do that, then we as a nation fail.

Higher education leaders must be proactive and take a stand on this issue. We often are reluctant to be as vocal as we should be on national issues. We use as an excuse that there are too many things occurring at our campuses that take all our time.

But many of these immigrants are our students, and we must prepare them to join the workforce and be productive additions to the economy, or it is not just them who will lose out, it is this entire country.

A recent study from the Public Policy Institute of California reported that California is facing a serious shortage of skilled workers in the next 20 years, when two of every five jobs will require a college degree, up from the current one in three.

We have the population here to meet that shortage but many are undocumented immigrants. But what we must do is get them ready for college, into college, graduated from college and then into the workforce.

This same report said that 11 percent of Latinos currently have degrees, and that will climb to 16 percent by 2025. Asians, who currently are at 59 percent with degrees, will climb to 65 percent.

While that is encouraging, think of the 84 percent of Latinos who will not have degrees in 2025 – that is the tragedy, and we must do something about it now.

Before I get into some details about immigration and how it impacts higher education, let me tell you a little about the California State University and its students so you will have some background for my remarks.

The California State University

The California State University is the largest and most diverse four-year university system in the country, with approximately 417,000 students and 46,000 employees on 23 campuses spanning the 1,000-mile coastline and valleys of California.

Our students are not the traditional 18- to 22-year-olds. For example:

  • The average undergraduate age is 24
  • About 85 percent are commuters
  • 44 percent are independent from their parents
  • Nearly two in five have dependents
  • Four out of five have jobs, and 36 percent work full time
  • One in five is in the first generation in their family to attend college
  • 40 percent come from households where English is not the main language spoken.

According to California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, the California State University accepts the top third of California’s high school graduates. The University of California takes the top one-eighth and the rest can attend one of 109 community colleges.

Currently 55 percent of our enrollment is students of color. Of that 55 percent, about 7 percent are African American, 27 percent Latino, and 21 percent Asian.

Compared to many universities around the country, we do a pretty good job of enrolling students from traditionally underserved groups. But pretty good is not good enough.

As California’s Latino population continues to grow, a real challenge is to focus on the pipeline of incoming students. During the past 20 years, the eligibility rate for Latino students has been only about half the California Master Plan standard. That is unacceptable.

For example, in 2003, Latinos made up 34 percent of all California high school graduates, but only 16 percent were eligible for admission to the CSU. This means that the remaining students did not take the required courses for college preparation and missed their chance to leave high school headed to a CSU campus.

Those students missed out on being among the 16,000 degrees granted by the CSU to Latino students in 2005/06.

These figures take into account only those Latinos who graduated high school. We all know that the dropout rate is way too high, especially for low-income students of color, and for illegal immigrants.

And even if they graduate and are eligible for higher education, sometimes the cost is prohibitive, even with a measure signed into California law.

Former Governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 540 in 2001. It said that all nonresident students who met certain criteria would pay in-state fees and tuition, rather than the much higher out-of-state fees.
The criteria was that they:

  • Had to have attended high school in California for at least three years
  • Have graduated from a California high school or received the equivalent, and
  • Be enrolled as a new or continuing student at a CSU campus

If the student was undocumented, he or she had to sign an affidavit saying that they had filed an applications with the INS to legalize their status, or that they would do so as soon as they were eligible.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Legislature passed a bill to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. If the Connecticut governor signs the bill, that state will be the 11th to approve what California did six years ago.

The other states that have approved similar bills are: Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.

It is evident that other states are beginning to see that educating immigrants is more economically sound that not educating them. A Texas study showed that illegal immigrants returned 5 dollars to the state for every 1 dollar spend educating them.

The California legislator who authored the in-state tuition bill has another piece of legislation in the current session, Assembly Bill 160, called the “California Dream Act.” It would extend these provisions to students who graduate from technical schools and adult schools, not just regular high schools.

But more importantly, the new bill states that students who are now paying resident tuition under the AB 540 provisions can apply for, and participate in, all student aid programs administered by the state’s three higher education segments. This would be a major change in our financial aid regulations.

The CSU welcomes and is very supportive of this new legislation.

You might ask how many students in the CSU have paid the in-state fees because of the original bill. We have never tracked the number of CSU students, so I do not have any idea how many there are.

That kind of tracking would make the CSU a quasi-branch of the INS, and we do not intend to become that.

Even though the California State University’s in-state fees are among the lowest in the nation – currently they are $2,520 annually (plus another $700 in campus based fees) - many students have a difficult time paying that amount because they do not qualify for financial aid. And since they cannot legally work, they are strapped for money.

That is why the new “California Dream Act” would be of such benefit to these students if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, which is not a given at this point, since he has vetoed similar previous legislation.

In addition, this is where the new federal immigration reform bill being debated now in Congress might help CSU students and other students, as well as soldiers in the U.S. military.

A provision of that bill, which is also called the “Dream Act,” which stands for “The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” Act, is directed toward young people who want to become lawful permanent residents.

It mean many undocumented college students could be immediately eligible for a new probationary “Z” visa, and after three years, a green card. They would be eligible for federal financial student loans, work-study and other federal assistance. This is key – financial aid to help them pay for college like most other college students.

These college students would thus have a path to citizenship and most likely an easier path to a degree. They and their families would not have to worry all the time about them being deported – these students could concentrate on their studies and their careers.

What a concept that would be – free up the students from the stress of thinking at any time they might be sent to another country, one that might not have been in since they were a baby.

The Dream Act, some have said, “would give them an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

The California State University supports this measure.

Now, we all know that this bill will be the subject of much debate in Congress and in all of our states and in the media. What we all need to do is speak out in favor of these provisions that will help students and eventually help our economy remain competitive by our campuses providing the educated workers this country needs.

We must be diligent in our support. It will not be easy, as there are many pros and cons to the full legislation, but let us keep our eye on the “Dream” ball, and help our students cross the college goal line.

State and National Collaborations:

The California State University works effectively with various state and national organizations in support of legislation aimed at helping undocumented students and providing general college support for low-income Latino and other students of color. For example, we have worked with:

  1. HACU: We have worked together to secure passage of national legislation such as the Dream Act, Higher Education Act and the International Education Act that benefit low income and undocumented students.
  2. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund: Many CSU students receive support annually from this fund, and many CSU campuses match these scholarship funds.
  3. The National Council of La Raza: We have worked on many initiatives that serve Latinos in California and across the U.S. The Council is based in Los Angeles, and several CSU administrators have served on its board.
  4. The Hispanic caucus of the California Legislature and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO): We have worked with both organizations in support of bills that benefit Latino college students in general and undocumented students in particular.

CSU outreach efforts:

While our work with these outside organizations is very important, we know that we cannot depend on others in our efforts to help immigrants and students of color.

We have things we need to do now as a system before we lose a generation of potential college students.

People sometimes ask me what is my greatest challenge as Chancellor of the California State University.

What I have learned in nearly 10 years as chancellor is that we must reach students from traditionally underserved populations, get them eligible and into college and then get them graduated. They already are in the majority in California, and are on the brink of becoming a majority population in this country.

California is not alone facing this challenge, but we are already where many other colleges and universities in this country will be in the next 15 years.

If we don’t serve those students – many of who are the first in their families to attend college – our universities will become obsolete, our workforce will suffer, and our businesses and economy will pay the price.

Translated: our communities and our standard of living will decline. It no longer will be “their” problem that they are not educated and contributing to the intellectual community and economic base – it will be a problem we ignored at our own peril.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education estimates that the personal income of Americans will drop in the next 15 years unless states do a better job of raising the educational level of all racial and ethnic groups.

One thing for certain is that our universities can no longer take a passive approach to outreach or admissions. We can’t wait for students to come to us.

We need to get out of our comfort zones, out of our “ivory towers” and take our mission out to the people where they live. We have to go directly into the community to reach students, many of whom are our most economically needy students. And many are undocumented immigrants.

Our mission is (1) getting students ready for college, (2) getting them into college, (3) graduating them and (4) getting them into the workforce.

We cannot expect students just to come to us if we do not reach out to them in places such as their neighborhoods, their communities and their churches.

We must go out and find students who might not speak English as a first language, whose parents or grandparents may never have been to a college campus, and whose school district maybe has not paid attention to their needs, nor have their school counselors.

We must help these young people and their parents understand all of the steps necessary to prepare for college, including and especially, applying for financial aid.

This is what the California State University is doing with urgency, before it becomes a crisis situation. Educating the underserved means a better life and health for recipients, and a better economy and quality of life for all Californians. The same is true for all of your states.

We have created a number of collaborative projects with our K-12 and community college counterparts. Because the overwhelming majority of our students come from the public schools and community colleges, we must work with them. When their students get better, the California State University gets better.

Here is some of what we have done:
CSU Mentor

Our online application service, CSU Mentor (, allows students to do “one-stop shopping” for planning their high school coursework, applying for admission and applying for financial aid.

We received a record 465,742 online applications for fall 2007 admission during CSU’s priority application period. That is a six percent increase from last year, and marks the ninth straight year of growth for online applications. We know that to reach young people of all colors and economic levels you need to do it electronically, so we have moved almost entirely in that direction.

During the past 18 months, the CSU has made concerted efforts to reach out to students in underserved communities to provide information about college eligibility, applying online, as well as financial aid. This year, all ethnic groups showed an increase in applying online. Within the underserved communities, Latino applications grew by 15 percent, African-American increased by 12 percent, Asian increased by 12 percent and Native-American grew by 12 percent. Those increases let us know that we have made progress, but there is more to do.

How to Get to College Poster

Our “How to Get to College” poster, offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese, spells out what middle and high school students, grade by grade, need to do to prepare for college. It also gives deadlines and instructions for applying for financial aid. The CSU distributes 1.3 million posters each year.

This is a simple way to reach parents, especially those who have not had the benefit of college and do not know where to begin. This is so true of our immigrant parents. To see or order the posters, go to

Early Assessment Program

Our Early Assessment Program allows 11th grade students to take a test to assess their college readiness in English and math. We augment already required state tests with questions that determine if a student has the needed college-level skills.

With this “early signal,” they can spend their senior year in high school – often a wasted year - filling any academic gaps so that when they go to college, they are ready for college. We’ve established special math and English web sites to help students and teachers with these subjects.

More 11th graders are taking the test each year, but it would be better if all did so they know their status. In 2006, 55 percent of those who took the test were proficient in math, but only 25 percent of the students were proficient in English. For the most part, we know that the score is low because of language barriers, which makes it even more important that we work with these students, their parents and our K-12 colleagues to help them overcome language deficiencies.

As part of our EAP program, we are doing extensive professional development for K-12 teachers so that they are equipped with the best techniques to help these young people. So far, results are showing students who took classes from teachers who took this training are showing more proficiency on their tests. That means they are better prepared for college, which is our goal.

Community Outreach Forums

Parents sometimes have no idea what it takes to get their children into college, especially if English is not their first language.

Sometimes, even our teachers do not know what all our requirements are, so we need an education campaign if we are going to get students ready for college.

Our outreach forums help us learn more from community members about how we can better serve California’s students.

We have held meetings across the state with leaders from Latino, Native American, Vietnamese communities and other ethnic groups to hear from them what we can do better to reach out to them and their children.

Super Sundays:

Research shows that churches are key components of the black community, so that’s where we went rather than waiting for parents and students to come to us.

On two Sundays this past February in the San Francisco/East Bay area and the greater Los Angeles area, CSU presidents, trustees and others took the message to the pulpits that college is possible and that it can make a significant difference in a young person’s life.

We reached 40,000 African-American community members through these events.

We also did one event last year and reached thousands then. We will keep doing this and assist the ministers and education coaches at these churches.

Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE)

Another example of our reaching out is our partnership with the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), which helps strengthen parent involvement in elementary and middle school students’ education.

Parents are a strength in the Latino community, so again, as with the black community, our strategy is to go to the strengths. During the nine-week PIQE training program, parents learn how to improve their child’s performance in the classroom and identify steps to help their child attend a college or university.

At the end of the session, parents are presented with a “graduation certificate” and their children are given an identification card that guarantees them admission to a CSU campus if they meet the requirements.

Research shows that the vast majority of parents who graduate from a PIQE program send their children to college. Already, 7,000 mothers graduated last year, which is good news for their children and for the CSU. The Chancellor’s Office gave each campus a $25,000 matching grant to implement this program for the past two years.

There is Far More to Do

Aside from what we are doing at the California State University, there is far more that all of us need to do:

  • We need to continue to support and advocate for federal outreach programs such as Upward Bound, GEAR-UP, TRIO, and others. Middle school students in particular need our attention because many decide to drop out in those years, and they then are lost not only to higher education, but to high school. More importantly, they will lose out economically. Those with a baccalaureate degree will make more than $1.2 million above what a higher school graduate makes over their working lifetime. A middle school student who drops out and doesn’t return is headed to the poverty line.
  • We need to address curricular problems at the middle and high school levels. The CSU has been deeply involved in an effort to make sure that all California students have access to a college prep curriculum. We were very strong supporters of the successful effort to adopt an A-G curriculum at the Los Angeles Unified School District for all students. We also need to look at the lack of reading and reading comprehension skills among many students, and at the low-level math courses that do little if anything to prepare students for college-level work.
  • We need to help recruit more students from under-represented populations to be teachers in public schools, so that more students have teachers who look like themselves. This means developing networks and building our own pipeline to define career pathways for talented individuals. Role models are important components of our immigrant communities.
  • We need to recruit more Latino, African American and Asian faculty and staff members at our university campuses. Most universities across the country will experience waves of retiring “baby boomer” faculty members, so now is the time to recruit faculty of color to our campuses. They also are important role models for our students.
  • We need to show business and industry that it works to their benefit to support access. We must engage as many of these kinds of partners as we can to ensure success in the community. If we are to provide the workforce vital to their businesses, they must be our partners in getting students through high school and into college careers critical to our states’ economies.

In Summary

There is much that the California State University is doing to meet the challenge of educating the underserved populations of color in California.

We have stepped out of our campus comfort zones and gone into the communities, taking our education passion with us. We are seeing increasing numbers of students heeding our cries to come to college for personal, professional and community benefit.

But we cannot let up. We must work harder with our K-12 and community college colleagues and with our industries. We cannot do business the way it worked in the past.

It is a different day with different populations with different needs. Reaching our immigrant populations takes work, but it is work that is absolutely necessary and will benefit everyone in the long run.

It is imperative that we reach our underserved populations because they are the future face of our country, just as those waves of European immigrants were centuries ago.

We must find ways to work out immigration laws so they benefit rather than hinder people getting an education.

As university leaders, we must assume more of a “bully pulpit” role on these issues that affect all of us. Even though we are all busy with the traditional issues we deal with – budgets, fundraising, curricular matters, etc – we must take time to work on this great challenge.

If we wait too long it will be too late for them and for our country. It is going to be a challenge for educators, but it’s a responsibility that everyone – community leaders, businesses, churches and elected officials – will all have to share.

Our communities and our economy are depending on us, and I hope we can measure up to that challenge.

Thank you.

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