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Statement of Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
Roundtable - Higher Education and Corporate Leaders: Working Together to Strengthen America's Workforce
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Thursday, May 19, 2005
10:00 a.m.
106 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC

Chairman Enzi, Ranking Member Kennedy, and members of the committee: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important discussion about the preparation of our nation’s workforce. Few, if any, university systems can match the scope of the California State University (CSU) system. Nationally, about 1.25 million bachelor’s degrees are awarded annually in the United States by about 2,000 colleges and universities with a combined student population in excess of 15 million. As the nation’s largest four-year university system, the California State University’s 23 campuses award more than 4.5 percent of those bachelor’s degrees, giving the CSU a significant national presence. In California, a state boasting 372 public and private institutions, the CSU plays an even stronger role. It serves nearly 400,000 students, twice as many as the University of California and more than all private colleges and universities in California combined. It accounts for almost half of the bachelor degrees granted in California, and a third of the master’s degrees.

And those bachelor degrees are not narrowly focused. Because of the breadth of its offerings, which includes more than 1,800 degree programs, the California State University serves as the essential engine of California’s skill-dependent economy. Its role in workforce preparation is unrivaled. It provides the majority of the state’s new teachers, 40 percent of its engineering and nearly half of its business graduates, and more graduates in agriculture, communications, health, and public administration than all other California colleges and universities combined. Our focus is on quality, access, and affordability. We are proud to say that the CSU is working for California.

In order for our country to remain globally competitive, we must build strong and effective partnerships between education, business, and the government. No matter which sector we represent, our work is essentially interconnected. The strength of our country’s educational system relies on the participation of businesses and government, and in turn, a strong educational system helps us build successful businesses and a strong economy. It is all part of a continuum in which we must be active partners.

Point 1: Our efforts must begin with K-12

For as long as I have been at the California State University, I have made it a priority to work with our K-12 schools. The vast majority of our students come from California’s public schools, and the more K-12 and higher education work together, the better prepared our students will be for success in college.

Point 2: College awareness and preparation are key

College is no longer a luxury in our society, it is a necessity. We know that a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn nearly twice as much over a lifetime as a high school graduate. Before I came to California, it had never occurred to me that many young people didn’t know how to prepare for college. But our population is rapidly growing and shifting. California is now a majority-minority state. Many of our students come from homes where the parents are not from this country and do not speak English. Plus, many of our students are the first in their families to attend college. These students often need assistance in making sure they get the right classes in high school, filling out applications, and filling out financial aid forms.

Also, even when many of our students arrive at college, they still face a need for remedial education. Remedial courses are expensive for students, costing them added time to their degree, additional tuition payments, and often increased student indebtedness. Remedial education is also costly to the institution, demanding scarce resources, and ultimately reducing seats available to the next class of students at a time when enrollment demand is outpacing the capacity of our colleges and universities. The CSU is working with California’s schools to reduce the need for remediation at the college level. Our efforts to address this issue include:

Early Assessment Program: The CSU has worked with the California Department of Education and State Board of Education to create this testing program, which is embedded in the 11th grade California Standards Tests. It is designed to give students an “early signal” about their level of college readiness. Once they take this test, students have the opportunity to do any additional preparation that they need to do for college while in the 12th grade. Our early assessment focuses on mathematics and English, two areas that are essential to preparing students to participate in a highly skilled workforce.

GEAR UP and TRIO: The GEAR UP and TRIO programs are essential to our efforts to prepare disadvantaged students for a college education, and indeed to let them know that college is a possibility for them. The California State University participates in more GEAR UP programs than any other entity in the nation, and I urge you to strengthen and maintain these two essential programs.

Poster: We created a “How to Get to College” poster to distribute to every middle school and high school in the state. This poster spells out exactly what courses and tests a student needs to take to prepare for the California State University or the University of California. The demand for these posters has been overwhelming. We now distribute posters all around the state in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Boeing has been a strong supporter and lead partner in underwriting this effort.

Point 3: All Americans must have an opportunity to participate and contribute

At the CSU, approximately 54 percent of our students are from minority populations and 40 percent come from households where English is not the main language spoken. In an increasingly diverse society, it is essential to ensure that all sectors of that society are prepared to participate. Unfortunately, there is still an achievement gap across all levels of higher education. The reality is that we need to build a “pipeline” for under-represented students from high school to graduate school to business. To do this, we must increase the number of role models, including teachers, who can reach out to diverse communities. We must also improve on the graduate opportunities available to under-represented populations. For example, adding a graduate component to Title V of the Higher Education Act (HEA) would be a step in the right direction to greater inclusion of American Latinos.

Ensuring that all young people have a chance to participate is a critical component in building a highly skilled workforce. American business needs individuals who can design, produce, and ultimately market products to every community in America and increase the demand for America’s products throughout the world.

Point 4: We need partnerships with business to prepare students for workforce success

The fact that there is a gap between what students are learning and what future employers need from our graduates tells us that higher education needs to pay closer attention to workforce preparation. Our credibility with our business and community partners ultimately depends on our ability to prepare students who are equipped with the tools for future success.

According to the public policy and research firm Public Works, three key attributes necessary for success in the 21st century workforce include the ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to relate collaboratively, and the ability to adapt and transact in a global economy. If we give students the opportunity to work in teams, challenge them to work across divisions, and offer them more exposure to real-life situations, they will be better prepared for what today’s jobs require of them.

Several of our most successful recent graduates have told us that the key to their university experiences was working with professors who knew about workforce needs and having a flexible curriculum that allowed them to get maximum exposure to the latest technology, equipment, and techniques.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to work closely with business partners in our community, including the sponsoring of scholarships, internships, and job placement opportunities. Additionally, several of our campuses have undertaken innovative joint ventures that benefit all parties involved. For example, Cal Poly Pomona is launching a joint public/private partnership known as Innovation Village. The new Red Cross regional headquarters that just opened at Innovation Village will be largest blood-processing facility in the country. The university offers the Red Cross a strategic location and access to vast university resources. In return, having that facility offers the university prime educational and research opportunities.

Point 5: We must continue to inform our community partners about the impact/importance of higher education

The California State University recently did a comprehensive study of the impact of the university and its 23 campuses. The study found that CSU-related expenditures create $13.6 billion in economic activity, support 207,000 jobs, and generate $760 million in state taxes. We have been conducting events all across the state that highlight the CSU’s role in several key industries to industry and community audiences. By raising awareness about the role of the university, we hope to build stronger partnerships that will allow us to make new inroads into these industries – and to hear more about how we can better prepare students for the workforce.

Thank you again for this opportunity to present the views of the California State University. I hope you will continue to view our system as a resource as you work on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and other matters related to workforce preparation.

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