Chancellor Timothy P. White's remarks at California Community College League, January 28, 2013 | Chancellor's Speech | CSU

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Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
California Community College League
Sacramento, CA
January 28, 2013

Thank you, Cindy (Miles). It is truly a pleasure to be here and to see so many familiar faces and meet new ones.
It’s true, I am a product of all three of California’s systems of higher education. For better or for worse, I’m the living embodiment of the Master Plan…and like the Master Plan, a little tattered around the edges but still fundamentally strong, pathologically optimistic – and ready for the future.

As you heard, I am an alumnus of Diablo Valley Community College. I remain a vocal supporter of California’s community colleges…And two of my boys attended DVC – as did my dad, late in his life, so he could keep his job at Hexcel.

I have always believed that there is something very special about community colleges. You might say it’s right there in the name – “community.”

Community is derived from two Latin roots – “Com” – together – and “munus” – gifts. So essentially “Community” is a way of saying “bringing our collective gifts together.”

I think that speaks volumes about the meaning, the purpose, and the aspirations of higher education. Our community colleges are, by definition, woven into the fabric of the communities that they serve. Your institutions reach people in our communities every day, in every corner of our state, and at every stage of their lives.

That is the real meaning of education – having an ongoing and lifelong impact on the people we serve.

At the California State University, we often refer to community colleges as “our partners.” I am proud to have such a close association with the community colleges here in this state, as it helps both of us succeed on behalf of Californians.

Today I want to reflect a little bit about higher education in general, and then more specifically about our institutions.

Higher Education

If you read some of the polls that come out, you’ll see that the public is not particularly happy with higher education. A surprising number of Americans think that the college and university experience isn’t particularly useful and/or it is too expensive.

At the CSU and UC, the cost per student is actually down – it’s who is paying for it that’s changed. Also,

  • The ecology of learning is changing;
  • The heterogeneity of our students and their life commitments is increasing;
  • The financial models are unsustainable, and states, including California, have been disinvesting for years;
  • Expectations for accountability and improved completion rates and shortened time to degree are rising;
  • Demand is up;
  • Our aging campuses are overdue for maintenance and upgrades – an expectation of those who work or study on campus.

This is a dilemma for most of our institutions in California, because we are low cost to students and have modest, at best, support from taxpayers. And yet we have many “expensive students” who need academic support and remediation – not because they aren’t academically capable, but because they haven’t had access to adequate learning environments along the way.

All of this leads to complaints that costs are up but students are getting less in terms of the learning environment.

When I hear these complaints, I am reminded of a story from my childhood: We were not a family of means. When something was broken, we fixed it, got it repaired, or went without. So we used to go to a shoe repairman to repair our shoes.

He had a sign above his cash register, thumb tacked to the wall, which stated rather incredulously, “You want me to do what, by when, for how much?!?”

That’s a question we might be asking now, in terms of quality, access, and affordability. “You want us to serve how many students with quality, and graduate them by when, with how much money?”

I know many of you have asked that question before – possibly even more than once a day.

Despite the challenges of our times, the opportunities are even more profound, as is the need.  I continue to be bullish on higher education because it levels the playing field for all segments of society. It lessens the gaps not by bringing some down, but by raising everyone, some more than others.

Those individuals with intellectual ability and willingness to work hard are the very fabric of the greatness of California, and of America.
There is no other endeavor that encompasses as many noble causes:

  • Building human capital;
  • Discovering and creating new knowledge;
  • Engaging with our communities, businesses, political entities, and professional societies;
  • Preserving knowledge for future generations;
  • Applying knowledge to improve the quality of life for all.

And when I say “quality of life for all” I’m not just talking about our students, alumni, and employees. I’m talking about the greater good of our educated society.

Unemployment rates are lower, as is the use of the criminal justice and corrections systems, let alone the social support systems and public health. Plus, people pay more taxes with higher incomes.

Beyond all this, it is an issue of social justice, and we have a moral imperative in this regard.

As Governor Brown put it in his State of the State last week: If we fail in how we teach the next generation, “we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify.”

He also opened the door for community colleges and the CSU for more conversation when he said that treating people equally who are not equal because of different circumstances is neither fair nor just. He suggested some supplementary funding in K-12. We should think and pay attention to this.

So lest we begin to question our worth, I’m here to tell you that what we’re doing is important. This stuff matters.

And it’s why I am going to work relentlessly to change the dialogue about higher education in California and the relationships with those who support us.

I look forward to doing so together with my friends and colleagues in the California Community Colleges. We need people to further understand the enormous impact of what we do every day.

Community Colleges

With regard to the CSU and California’s community colleges, I don’t think there are any other university systems in the country with such a close and meaningful relationship.

For the past two years, the California State University had 54,000 students transferring to the CSU. That is about 50 percent of our incoming students annually.

The six-year graduation rate for transfers from California community colleges is 70 percent…so you are doing much very well.

We are proud to be so closely linked – and yet we know we can always do better in making those connections more seamless for students.
Our Board of Trustees maintains SB 1440 as one of its top priorities. In fact, it is the only agenda item that is on the agenda for every single board meeting.

That’s how significant it is to us. We are keeping tabs on the progress every step of the way.

The process is not yet perfect, but we are continuing to iron out the wrinkles.

In fact, I am thinking we need to give it a P.R. overhaul. I’m thinking that we should call it “The California STARship” to communicate to students that this is a vehicle to rocket them forward.

We are also continuing to advance our priority of reaching out to students through online avenues and other computer-assisted technologies, interfaced with faculty.  

I know this is a priority of Governor Brown’s for the community colleges and the UC system as well.

We both share the goal of reaching students no matter what their stage in life – like my kids and my dad – or no matter what their limitations are on time or on transportation.

As we find more effective ways to assist those hardest-to-reach students, we will be doing our job even better.

Looking Forward

Looking ahead, one thing is clear for both community colleges and the CSU: We are emerging from a very tough budget environment.

With renewed investment, expectations are high for immediate improvement… by employees, by students, by the public. Managing these expectations will be important, as we are digging out of a big hole. The lingering impact of the last four years will persist.

Of course our efforts to save California will benefit from some additional revenue from Prop. 30 – thank you to those of you who supported it – but we are by no means on easy street. And, of course, the relief of Prop. 30 will sunset in 2019.

We’re also in a unique position wherein we will have new leadership at the helm of each of the three systems of higher education:

  • Brice Harris became community college chancellor in September; and will soon be the senior statesman of the group;
  • I started at the CSU late last month;
  • Mark Yudof – who has served the UC system so ably since 2008, has just announced that he would be stepping down in August as president of the UC.

We owe a great debt to the leaders who came before us. But we now have an opportunity to bring new faces and new voices to the dialogue.

And so that’s why I am urging the community colleges to do the same thing that I am trying to do at the CSU: Tell our story.

We have a very compelling story. We transform lives. Families. Communities.

Consider the amazing success stories of two of the CSU’s recent Hearst/Trustee scholars who transferred from community colleges. These are high-achieving students who have overcome great hardships while managing to succeed in school and still give back to their communities:

Asja Hall grew up in a poor, single-family household in Compton. She often had to go without dinner and do her homework by candlelight. But she persevered in her studies and made it to Cerritos College, where she developed an interest in social services and mental health.

She then transferred to Cal State Dominguez Hills and earned a degree in human services and public administration. She is now at work on her master’s degree in social work at Dominguez Hills, and she volunteers in her local assemblywoman’s office.

Loan Thi Kim Nguyen was raised by a single mother, spent some time in foster care; and later became a single mother herself. But she succeeded in earning AA degrees in both liberal arts and social science at Laney College in Oakland. Now she’s working on a bachelor’s degree in sociology/social services at Cal State East Bay. And she still finds time to volunteer as a Vietnamese translator.

Of course both of these stories are remarkable on the face of it. But what’s even more remarkable is the fact that these students are not alone. There tens of thousands like them who are persevering, succeeding, and continuing to give back to their communities.

We need to get more of these stories out there. Because our students are achieving remarkable things every day. And for every state dollar that is invested in public higher education, we all get that investment back many times over.

So when we’re here in Sacramento and at home in our communities, let’s make sure we get that part of our message across. What we do matters – for our students, their families, their communities; and for our state and our future.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak.  I look forward to working together in the months and years to come.