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Upward Mobility Through Academic Excellence

President's Convocation Address Shows Cal State Fullerton Leading on Student Success

Aug. 18, 2014

woman in black dress at podium

Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García addresses campus and community members during her annual convocation address.

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With the delivery this morning of her third Cal State Fullerton convocation address, President Mildred García ushered in the 2014-15 academic year, expanding on one of her signature themes: "We are all educators; we are life-changers ..." She also cited instances of the University's leadership in bolstering student success as the springboard for achieving the American Dream.

Her remarks offered highlights of the previous year's achievements, outlined priorities, and welcomed the many newcomers and special guests in the audience of more than 500 gathered in Meng Concert Hall for the occasion.

Among them, CSU Trustee Kelsey Brewer, a Cal State Fullerton student appointed in June by Gov. Jerry Brown to the CSU Board of Trustees, plus alumni Julie Miller-Phipps '83, chair of the CSF Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors and senior vice president and executive director of Kaiser Permanente Orange County, and CSUF Alumni Association President Dorissa Martinez '01, archives technician for the National Archives and Records Administration.

García expressed excitement about the start of the new academic year, announcing the recruitment of 62 new tenure-track faculty members as progress to date on last August's goal of adding 133 tenure-track faculty members in two years. She drew applause when thanking the many campus members who served on search committees for the new faculty members.

Provost Cruz Sets the Stage
García was introduced by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs José L. Cruz, who set the stage for the president's remarks with a look at the current state of affairs in higher education.

"Persistently low degree completion rates, particularly among low-income students, continue to limit social mobility: by age 24, young people from families in the bottom income quartile are seven times less likely to have a bachelor's degree than those from families in the top income quartile," he noted.

"Clearly, the only way our nation can once again lead the world in educational attainment and fulfill its twin promises of opportunity and social mobility is if large, diverse public institutions, such as Cal State Fullerton, lead the way," he said.

"President García understands that the stakes are high — for the country, for our state and our region, and acknowledges that our institution has a special responsibility in helping turn things around and a track record of getting the job done."

He praised her leadership within the institution and in higher education groups around the country, and her efforts to "shape the national conversation on educational attainment."

Convocation 2014
García credited faculty with having "the credentials, ability and education to teach at any institution in the world, including private institutions offering more prestige, higher salaries, and greater outreach opportunities than a public university can.

"Yet, not only do they choose to be here, in many cases, they have left careers at so-called higher-profile universities for the opportunity to be here," she noted, "because they know their knowledge is more impactful here. They know they can truly have a hand in transforming lives here. They know their efforts are game-changing, not just for their students, but for their families, their family legacies, neighborhoods and communities.

"In short, they understand that Cal State Fullerton is both the physical manifestation of the American Dream and springboard for others to attain it — and they know it is an honor to be a part of it."

She paused during her remarks to introduce a short video prepared by Strategic Communications that "encapsulates many of our triumphs over the past year and demonstrates how a community can come together focused on our strategic directions, how we are continually lifting an institution to demonstrate to the world how we educate and build a community of difference, and how our aspiration to reach higher in all that we do has served us well in progressing toward our goal to become that model comprehensive university of the nation."

Picking Up the Pace
García noted that many in the campus community have pointed out the "unprecedented speed" with which the Strategic Plan was developed as a significant turning point in the pace at which the institution moves.

"From my perspective, in this ever-shifting landscape of higher education, the calls for performance funding and the rapidly changing demographics of the region we serve, the pace at which we move have never been more critical. One could argue that the survival of our institution and its honorable legacy depends on it.

"But we, here at Cal State Fullerton, have vowed to not just survive, but to thrive, to not only accept and serve our students, but also admit the new majority — the underrepresented and low-income students from all backgrounds, first-generation students from under-resourced schools — and we accept the moral responsibility to graduate them, to not just become that model comprehensive university for our 22-sister CSU campuses, but for all comprehensive institutions across the nation."

Progress Toward Goals
Cited as progress toward achieving the goals of the Strategic Plan:

• Hiring a diverse group of nine new advisers as part of a two-year campaign to ensure that at least 75 percent of students participate in an advising system that integrates academic, career and personal development components.

• Creation of the Student Success Dashboard, heralded as a national model by the Lumina Foundation and praised by the Chancellor's Office as a "breakthrough that is well worth emulation systemwide." Already, its use has helped more than 250 students sidestep delays in earning their degrees, Garcia noted.

• Efforts targeting college readiness, including the Early Assessment Program, Early Start, Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum and the college readiness website. "The success of these initiatives and others is evidenced by the increase of college math-ready students to 87.3 percent of our entering freshman class — up more than 10 percentage points over the past five years."

•Supplemental instruction efforts to identify and expand programs with a proven impact on increasing student achievement in bottleneck, gateway and low-success-rate academic courses. Now centralized under a newly-hired coordinator in the University Learning Center, supplemental instruction support was afforded last year to 224 course sections, up from 140 the prior year.

"The intentionality with which we are pursuing these efforts has again resulted in our emergence as a systemwide leader in this area," García said, noting that Cal State Fullerton faculty received nearly 30 percent of the $1.9 million in funding distributed by the CSU for course redesign efforts, while CSUF's student body constitutes less than 10 percent of the CSU student population.

On the strength of the University's utilization of High Impact Practices to increase student success, "the Chancellor's Office has asked us to be the system's lead campus in the HIPs Initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in which we will serve as faculty and staff mentors for our colleagues in at our 22 sister CSU campuses."

Similarly, Garcia credited the creation of the Division of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion, the hire of its vice president, and the collaborative efforts of faculty search committees, academic deans and the new division in the "dramatic increase in overall diversity and quality of our newly hired Titans." The development of a Diversity Action Plan will follow.

Concluding her progress report, García announced that this past year the University surpassed its five-year goal by raising $16 million and also boosted the endowment in the span of two years from $34 million to $50 million.

Five Priorities Identified
Looking at the 2014-2015 academic year, García outlined five priorities as near-term objectives to further the goals of the Strategic Plan:

1) Develop the university's first Academic Master Plan to address what will be taught, who will teach, who and how many will be taught and what form will teaching will take.

2) Develop a culture of philanthropy through prospect engagement, pipeline development and fundraising success toward the long-term goal of raising at least $15 million annually, in order to be in the top third of our CSU peer group.

3) Improve student persistence and address the achievement gap for underrepresented students through increased cross-college/divisional collaboration.

4) Build a strong sense of place by improving student housing, capital programs and facilities operations to maximize campus expansion, restoration, beautification and maintenance opportunities.

5) Bolster tenure-track faculty hiring, professional development and leadership training so as to more effectively align both the skills and diversity of the faculty and staff with the University's ever-evolving student body, cultural shifts and the exponential advancement of technology.

Details of these priorities can be found in her complete remarks in the online video

Passion Via Social Media
García capped her convocation address with examples of tweets shared by students and alumni that helped snag for Cal State Fullerton a first-place win in Forbes   inaugural #MyTopCollege social media campaign.

"From my perspective, it is because the tweets and Instagram posts from our students and alumni articulated the passion that comes from being on a truly transformational path to upward mobility, grounded in academic excellence," García said.

"When I read these tweets and the hundreds of others like them, I don't hear students born with a clear cut path to college, I hear students blazing their own trail. ... Most of all, I hear the kind of passion for a university that can come only when a true transformation is occurring, when a path to upward mobility is actually being provided by the work that all of you do, and when positive change is evident, not just in the lives of the diverse students and alumni, but also in the communities in which they live, where they study and work.

"In short, this most recent honor, along with the hundreds of others we received last year, cements our status as a leading change-agent in our region and establishes a solid foundation for our aspiration to become that model comprehensive university of the nation nationally recognized for exceptional programs that prepare our wonderfully diverse student body for academic, professional and social success," she said.

"I have no doubt that we will get there, and I am honored to be working alongside each of you as your president."

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