Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
Opportunity Grant Academy
Chapel Hill, NC
June 3, 2008

Thank you, Travis (Reindl).

I understand you had some great discussions yesterday about our goals for the future.

Today we’re here to get down to the nitty-gritty. How do you put all of these ideals into practice? And what does it take to make it all happen? I like to get things done – not just talk about them.

I want to start with a four-word rule that I use whenever I need to get focused. That rule is: The student comes first.

Think about it this way: We’re not here to do things for the convenience of faculty members or administrators – we are not about serving "The Institution." We’re here for students – we need to serve students.

And when we get bogged down in convoluted discussions, sometimes it’s easiest to wipe the slate clean and ask ourselves this question: Why are we really here? Who do we serve? How do we get from point “A” to point “B” in a way that is best for our students and for student learning? Simply put, the most effective policies are the ones that work best for students.

Graduation Requirements

Let’s start with a look at what we did in Florida with admission and graduation requirements.

Florida’s state universities and its community colleges have one of the best coordinated systems in the country – almost perfect.

There is essentially a seamless transition between community colleges and the four-year universities.

Why is it seamless? For one thing, everyone agrees on the numbers. The universities accept 60 hours toward the bachelor’s degree. So that’s 60 hours – plain and simple – and it means the same thing across the board.

There is a common course numbering system across the state, so English 101 is the same whether you are in Pensacola or Gainesville or Miami. This includes public and private universities.

Also there is a 36-hour General Education requirement. So no matter where you go, you knew that you are responsible for 36 hours.

By avoiding duplications, Florida saves thousands of credit hours for students. It also means that the state does not have to pay twice.

And when you really look closely at the policy, it improves access and articulation for students. It helps keep students from being discouraged or feeling like they are getting the runaround. And it helps them map out a clear, accessible plan for earning a degree.

In California, we have been working on articulation but we have a long way to go before it is as simple as it is in Florida.

When I first came to California the minimum number of credit hours you needed for graduation was 124. I was baffled by this because everywhere else you only need 120 credit hours.

It turns out that in the 1950s there was a four-hour requirement for physical education. That requirement was no longer in place.

So when I figured out that those four hours were just extra, we made a simple change overnight, to move the requirement down to 120.

The faculty hated me for this – they said I was anti-intellectual. But honestly, that didn’t matter to me. I don’t need to have anyone love me except my wife.

I feel that there’s an unnecessary “credit creep” out there in which requirements keep getting added. The end result is that people are paying for extra credit hours that they don’t really need. That costs students more money, and it costs the state more money.

And worst of all – it makes it difficult and complicated and even discouraging for students to complete their degree.

That’s why we need to look at changes like these that are simple and pro-student. These are the kinds of things that will help us improve efficiencies and improve access.


Let’s look at another way of creating efficiencies.

At the California State University, we shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility when it comes to remedial education. The numbers of incoming freshmen needing some kind of remedial help in math or English hover at around the 50 percent mark.

We honor our responsibility to help those students. However, to whatever degree we can, we want to help them get the assistance they need before they get to the university.

They shouldn’t have to spend their college time and money doing the work they needed to do in high school, and the state shouldn’t have to spend that money either.

So - We worked with the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education, to create a test known as the Early Assessment Program, or EAP.

The test incorporates our placement standards into the California Standards Tests for English and math. It is designed to help 11th grade students get a 'snapshot' of their math and English proficiency.

If the EAP shows that that a student needs more work, they can use their time in 12th grade to brush up on the skills they need for college.

We've created lots of opportunities for students and teachers to get help. For instance, we have two web sites, and to help students prepare in those subject areas.

Some 400,000 juniors were tested this month. That’s an incredible number. It tells us that we are on the right track to get students the help they need earlier.

The end result is that these students will get the help they need in a timely fashion, and they don’t have to waste their time on remedial courses once they come to us. And again, this is pro-student. We don’t want them to be discouraged at the university because they are bogged down in remedial coursework. We want them to come to our campuses ready to succeed.

Political Capital

People ask me, how are you able to make large-scale changes like these? The answer lies in building political capital, or building goodwill on the part of all of our constituencies, including policymakers, community members, students and their families, and the general public.

Universities can earn political capital, and public goodwill, by taking steps to make themselves transparent. There is a surprising amount of distrust out there about how universities spend their money and the kind of outcomes they produce.

One thing the CSU did recently to improve its public profile was to join a national effort to create a voluntary system of accountability for universities. We felt that this was an important step toward putting ourselves out there as being accountable for our actions. The kind of information that we are putting out there is the kind of information you expect from a university: Graduation rates, demographics, and so forth.

Some universities don’t want to do it. They think it over-simplifies complicated information. Or in some cases they just don’t want to reveal the true numbers.

But that’s where I go back to my original rule. The students come first. Keep it simple on behalf of the students and their families. When students and their families can easily process the information – and it is helpful to them – then we are truly fulfilling our purpose.

Here’s the good thing about building political good will: You are able to make extraordinary strides for the benefit of the university.

One recent example is our compact agreement with the governor on our budget.

Over time, we built a mutually supportive relationship with Governor Schwarzenegger. We upheld a commitment to him to be accountable as a public university. And because of that strong relationship, we were able to reach a compact agreement with the governor for regular, predictable increases to our budget. That agreement was criticized in the beginning, but it has saved us during some of the tightest budget years. Once we had that structure in place, we knew what we were able to do.

We try to reach higher every year for funding beyond the compact agreement. But at the very least, it provides the minimum level of funding that we need to be successful.

Some people were strongly opposed to the compact agreement. Some felt we were selling ourselves short by establishing the lower limit. Some didn’t want us to lock ourselves into this commitment.

But in the end we had to ask ourselves – Are we doing right by the students? Is the end result going to get us where we need to be in terms of serving students? At the time, I thought the answer was “Yes.” And we are very fortunate that has turned out to be the case.

I want to wrap up so we can take some questions, but before I finish I want to leave you with one thought about the importance of what we are doing.

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.

If we don’t work to reach more students and help them on their way to higher education, we all will suffer. It will no longer be “their” problem that they are not educated and contributing to the economic base. It will be a problem we ignored at our own peril.

So everything we do now to improve efficiencies and reach more students will be an important step toward addressing this issue.

This means we must leave our campuses and go to the underserved communities of this nation. The CSU now goes to African American churches, Latino neighborhoods, Asian community centers, Native American reservations, and military bases.

We must keep creating opportunities like these to help the students of tomorrow earn a degree. And it is my hope that we can all work together to make that possible.

Thank you all for the work that you are doing here today. I will be glad to take any questions you may have.