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Convocation Address Chronicles Titans Reaching Higher

Boost in Six-Year Graduation Rate Exceeds Goal, Ahead of Schedule
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A near-capacity crowd of new and veteran faculty, staff and administrators gathered this morning in Meng Concert Hall to hear President Mildred García deliver her fourth CSUF Convocation address. Her strong and positive message on what the University has achieved since the establishment of the Strategic Plan and what the future will hold drew enthusiastic applause at various points during her speech.

She spoke of a recent stroll across campus when she passed by a group of incoming freshmen participating in New Student Orientation. “Nervous, giddy, exhilarated by the promise of what lay ahead …” García relayed that her thoughts soon turned to members of the staff and faculty, “who see our students for their promise, rather than their risk; who see more in them than they even see in themselves; and who see a brighter future for both the private good for our graduates and the public good of the region in which one day, they will build careers, raise families and lead communities.”

The efforts of the entire campus community help transform students’ lives, García emphasized. 

Exceeding Goal Ahead of Schedule

Cal State Fullerton reached higher last year when the goal to boost the six-year graduation rate to 60 percent was achieved — two years ahead of schedule, surpassing the target. The graduation rate now stands at 61 percent — the highest in the University’s history. In addition, progress was made on closing the achievement gap for underrepresented students — dropping from 12 to nine percent. As a result, the Class of 2015 is the largest ever, with almost 9,500 newly minted Titan graduates.

“Our incredible success in student persistence, retention and graduation over the past year is a result of our faculty’s commitment to improving student learning via curricular changes, course redesign, high-impact practices and leveraging co-curricular practices, such as supplemental instruction and service learning,” García said, emphasizing the collaborative work of the divisions of Academic and Student Affairs.

She went on to cite a wide range of activities and accomplishments, from establishing a framework for the development of the University’s first-ever Academic Master Plan and a centralized assessment management platform, to advancements in development of a culture of philanthropy that boosted gift commitments from $8.5 million in 2012-13 to $17 million in 2014-15.

What’s Ahead

For the coming year, García outlined a focus on a variety of initiatives, including:

  • Development and implementation of the Academic Master Plan, slated for approval in summer 2016, including the establishment of an Academic Master Plan Steering Committee chaired by Provost José Cruz and Emily Bonney, chair of the Academic Senate
  • Advancements with the Student Success Dashboard, the Educational Advisory Board student success collaborative platform and the CSU Graduation Initiative Dashboard
  • Drive to increase participation in high-impact practices, including the implementation of the first stages of the HIPS REACH pilot and new efforts, such as the President’s Strategic Fund to bolster HIPs
  • Successful course redesign and student support services, such as Supplemental Instruction
  • Increasing cleanliness, aesthetics, vibrancy, Titan Pride and campus policing and safety to continue building upon “sense of place”
  • Recruiting and retaining a high-quality and diverse faculty and staff and the establishment of the University’s first-ever diversity action plan, tentatively titled Titans Together: An Action Plan for Enhancing Equity Inclusion and Civility
  • Increasing revenue through fundraising, entrepreneurial activities, grants and contracts. While the 2015-16 state budget fulfilled the CSU Trustee’s request — fully funded for the first time in the 10 years — “it in no way means we are out of the woods,” she cautioned, noting a loss of $1 billion in state funding to the CSU from 2008-12. “We cannot take our foot off the gas of the fundraising culture we’ve created.”

García noted that she just completed her three-year review with the chancellor and CSU Board of Trustees. “To be clear, this wasn’t just my review, it was a review of the entire University, the faculty and staff and our collective efforts over the past three years,” she said. “So it is with great pleasure that I inform you the Board of Trustees and Chancellor [Timothy] White are extremely pleased by our work.”

In conclusion, Garcia noted that Cal State Fullerton was again crowned the winner of Forbes #MyTop College social media campaign. “Forbes may have nailed the reason for our success when the magazine announced that ‘community was an undeniable component of #MyTopCollege campaign this year.’

“As I scrolled through the MyTopCollege posts from our students, I saw the same theme emerge: students talking about how their professors are changing their lives by encouraging them to ‘reach higher’ in the classroom and community.

“Colleagues, I want to take a moment to thank each of you for dedicating so much to these students and for making this campus community their home — from the moment they nervously arrive for orientation to their triumphant celebration at commencement. What an incredible ride for them but also for us … Thank you.”

Reflections and Observations

In his opening remarks, José Luis Cruz, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said that when he first came to Cal State Fullerton, he was struck by President Garcia’s “ability to foster a sense of urgency and to sustain a sense of purpose. … She has worked tirelessly to accelerate our progress in becoming the model public comprehensive university of the nation and has achieved urgent, purposeful and transformational change.”

During the reception, following the convocation address, Dale Merrill, new dean for the College of the Arts, said that he is impressed by the University’s enormous accomplishments, and he is excited to be here.

“Dr. Garcia has provided a good roadmap for the year,” said Emily Bonney, associate professor of liberal studies and chair of the Academic Senate. “She laid it out very clearly … it was very inspiring.”

“This was a good reminder of where we are and what we need to do if we want to make a difference, to come together and collaborate …,” said Willem van der Pol, interim assistant vice president, facilities operations and management.

Garrett Hart, a former president of Paramount Network Television and in his second year as chair and professor of radio-TV-film, remarked that since he has been at CSUF, he has derived his greatest satisfaction from his students. “They work hard, they’re smart and they are inspirational.”

A relative newcomer to campus, Michael Coughlin, risk manager, said that he has been at CSUF for six months and he is “incredibly glad” to be here.

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