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Convocation 2016: Charting Success, Looking Ahead

President Mildred García Praises Success in Graduation Rates, Diversity, Inclusion and More
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A crowd of new and veteran faculty, staff and administrators gathered this morning in Meng Concert Hall to hear President Mildred García deliver her fifth CSUF Convocation address.

“It seems like just yesterday I was on stage, addressing our largest graduating class in history — a diverse group of 9,949 Titans who, together, earned 10,312 degrees,” she said. “We have been flirting with 10,000 degrees for many years but this is the first time we’ve hit that elusive mark!”

But more importantly, she pointed out, was that these degrees represent a dream realized, a family legacy transformed and a community lifted.

Also in attendance were this year’s class of 59 new tenure-track faculty members — one of the most diverse groups yet. Half are women, 33 percent are Asian, 10 percent are Latino, nine percent are African American and 40 percent are Caucasian. Since the implementation of the University’s strategic plan four years ago, more than 225 new tenure track faculty members have been hired, García said, in alignment with one of the plan’s goals to recruit and retain a high-quality and diverse faculty and staff. 

“We know, many of us firsthand, that the solution to violence, injustice and intolerance begins with equitable access to quality education in a welcoming, diverse environment,” she said. “That is who the Titan family is, and our work recalls the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.’

“We are that light; not just through our outstanding academic programs, but as a sanctuary for living and learning in a multicultural world focused on peace and social justice.”

In an update on the strategic plan, García pointed out how the University is meeting the plan’s four goals. 

“This is a wonderful opening to the beginning of the academic year.
You can feel the energy as we start this new year, and I’m just excited to be here
and be part of it. It was great to see how all the work that the faculty,
staff and students have been doing
has really made progress on the strategic plan for the campus. It’s great for us to see all that hard work come to fruition and be reminded that we still have more to do.”
        — Laurie Roades, dean, College of Health and Human Development

Goal One: Develop a curricular and co-curricular environment that prepares students for participation in a global society and is responsive to workforce needs.

Last year, a steering committee was appointed to address comments based on the first draft of the Academic Master Plan (AMP). This fall, an official draft of the AMP will be shared for yet another round of Universitywide input.

The Student Success Teams (SST) continue to thrive. The 10 teams, one in each college, one at the CSUF Irvine Campus and one dedicated to special populations, are a collaboration between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, providing data-driven student advising.

García spoke of a recent networking meeting of 10 other comprehensive institutions where a panel of student success team presenters discussed their work.

“People were blown away, taking notes furiously,” she recalled. “On that day and in that moment, we were the model public comprehensive university of the nation, and I saw the culture change we’ve been dreaming of, one that is grounded in our ability to work across colleges and divisions for the greater good of our diverse students. It was an amazing moment.”

This year’s work will focus on completing the Academic Master Plan, and the creation of a Physical Master Plan, the framework of which will be presented during the upcoming year.

“After hearing the speech I’m even more excited to be here than before.”
— David Nanigian, associate professor of finance (newly hired)

Goal Two: Improve student persistence, increase graduation rates Universitywide, and narrow the achievement gap for underrepresented students

“We are the lead campus in the CSU systemwide initiative on high-impact practices (HIPS),” she said. “Our comprehensive, data-informed approach not only defined the most impactful HIPs for our diverse students, but also enabled faculty and staff to integrate them seamlessly into the curriculum.”

The President’s Strategic Fund, in its inaugural year, empowered more than 100 diverse students to participate in winter Intersession study abroad/study away programs.

One outstanding example of HIPS is the groundbreaking gravitational wave breakthrough, in collaboration with Caltech and MIT. Confirming fundamental predictions made by Einstein, this discovery opened a new field of astronomy and offered unprecedented insight into how the universe works.

In the upcoming year, steps will be taken to address homelessness and food insecurity among students. With the completion of the renovation of the former Western State College of Law, University Extended Education and campus Information Technology will occupy this new facility. And the Titan Student Union expansion, to be completed by Labor Day, will provide 26,000 square feet of much-needed space to accommodate the growth of the student body.

“Cal State Fullerton has truly been transformed under President García’s leadership, which has been exemplary about improving graduation rates,
closing the achievement gap and increases in fundraising.
More than that, is the involvement with faculty, staff and students
in a new paradigm that is most significant.”
— Anil Puri, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs

Goal 3: Recruit and retain a high-quality and diverse faculty and staff

The past academic year saw the transformation of the campus’s diversity action plan develop into a larger, more collaborative endeavor to address campus diversity, inclusion and equity goals.

This new endeavor, the President’s Commission on Equity and Inclusion, is now led by subcommittees from Academic Senate, staff and managers, student organizations and campus affinity groups, all of whom will lead a Universitywide conversation on creating an inclusive climate where diversity is a point of pride and excellence.

“It was a good speech with a strong emphasis on students.
It was good because it also gave us further direction on our work
in completing the Academic Master Plan.”
                    — Emily Bonney, chair, Academic Senate

Goal 4: Increase revenue through fundraising, entrepreneurial activities, grants and contracts

This spring, the governor proposed a budget $101 million shy of what the CSUF asked for. After much advocacy, a final budget reflected a .46 percent increase to cover the one percent enrollment increase in the governor’s preliminary budget proposal. Much of the funding will be applied to mandatory cost increases.

With this in mind, philanthropy plays a more critical role.

“This year, we had the highest number of individual, alumni and parent donors in University history,” García said. “The final fiscal year before implementation of the strategic plan, we received $8.5 million in total gift commitments. The next year, total new gift commitments nearly doubled to $16.1 million, surpassing our five-year goal to increase giving to at least $15 million … in just one year. In 2014-15, we raised more than $17 million. I am proud to report that our total gift commitments for fiscal year 15-16 are more than $22 million!”

“President García was very uplifting. What struck me is … her positive message
of how it is our responsibility to be the agents of change — to be the light for our students in helping them achieve their goals.”  
— Susamma Barua, interim dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Six-Year Graduation Rate

“When we gathered in 2012, our six-year graduation rate was 51 percent,” she said. “We announced a goal to increase the graduation rate to 60 percent in five years. Many didn’t believe we could do that. And they were right — We did it in three years. This time last year, our six-year graduation rates were up to 61 percent.”

Our achievement, said García, also exceeded the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 goal, putting Cal State Fullerton exactly 10 years ahead.

While final numbers are still being tallied for this past year, it looks as if graduation rates for first-time freshmen will reach 63 percent, she reported. The next milestone is 76 percent.

“Now, before panic sets in, consider this,” García explained. “The jump we’ve seen in our six-year graduation rates over the past four years is nearly 13 percentage points. If we duplicate that over the next four years, our six-year graduation rate will be … 76 percent.”

In spring of 2012, four-year graduation rates for transfer students were at 67 percent. Today, it’s 75 percent.

“It’s always wonderful to hear what we have accomplished, to inspire us to look ahead.” 
— Dale Merrill, dean, College of the Arts

The Achievement Gap

The achievement gap, or the “opportunity gap,” between underrepresented students and their Caucasian peers is closing, García pointed out. In 2012, the gap for first-time freshman hovered at 13 percent. Three years later, it dropped to 8.7 percent, and today, it’s at 6.4 percent.

For transfer students, the gap was five percent in 2012. Today, it has been eliminated completely for the first time in the University’s history.

“I thought convocation was uplifting and highlighted important achievements of our students, faculty, staff and administration. It showed how what we are doing matters in the larger conversations occurring nationally and internationally.”
— Sean E. Walker, chair and professor of biological science 

“Education has the transformative power to help students achieve their dreams,” García said. “Let’s keep reaching higher.”