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State of the University Convocation, 2011-2012

President F. King Alexander
(Friday, August 26, 2011)

TThank you, Provost Para, and welcome students, faculty, staff, Board of Governors, Alumni Association Board of Directors, 49er Foundation members and honored guests to the 2011-2012 academic year at The Beach. I first would like to thank our chair of the Academic Senate, Professor Lisa Vollendorf, and Provost Para for their thoughtful remarks and for their campus leadership in these difficult times.

I also would like to thank all of you, our outstanding faculty and staff, for the collaborative spirit that we commonly share on our campus which allows our university to keep moving forward for the benefit of tens of thousands of students each year, despite the fact that we live in a state which, according to a recent edition of The Economist magazine, has become a story of global interest, not because we have one of the world's largest economies; not because we have one of the world's most diverse populations; not because many of our fellow Californians are among the richest people on earth. According to The Economist, California has become a story of global interest because it has made itself "ungovernable" and "dysfunctional," and has inadvertently become "an experiment in extreme democracy gone wrong" and a "negative model for other democracies" throughout the world.

As you know, I always like to start Convocation on an uplifting note like that, and you know after six years that I do not believe in sugarcoating the environment in which we live. But I will speak much more about these issues a bit later in my presentation when addressing our challenges ahead. However, I must confess up front and be honest with you that my true objective this morning is NOT to keep my remarks to 20 to 30 minutes, the way I have done for the last five years. My primary objective is to keep you here until about 9 p.m. tomorrow night, after the Taylor Swift concert that I am scheduled to attend with my teenage daughters. My ears are in no condition to handle 22,000 squealing teenagers yelling at decibel levels unknown to mankind.

Convocation has always been a "kickoff" event for our campus and one of the few opportunities where so many within our campus community can come together in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Convocation also provides me with an opportunity to share with you some of our additional achievements, while discussing many of the issues and new initiatives that will occur during the new academic year, which I will discuss shortly.

However, I, too, would like to welcome our new cohort of tenure-track faculty, visiting faculty and lecturers who bring to our campus an extremely impressive set of academic credentials, backgrounds, and diverse talents. Please know that all of our dedicated faculty and staff will certainly do our best to ensure that you get off to a great start in your new careers at Cal State Long Beach.

I also would like to welcome a small cohort of new staff members to our campus family. Without a doubt, the foundation and strength of this great university is firmly vested in its talented people and human capital. Our faculty and staff are the reason over 71,500 students applied to our university this year. From our beautiful grounds to the classrooms and laboratories, our people are the reason why we continually rank among the best public universities in the nation. And, it is the strength of our people that has built this university into a national leader producing university graduates from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Additionally, I would like to welcome all of our returning and new ASI student government leaders who every year do so much to enhance the lives of 35,000 students on our campus. I also would like to use this opportunity to invite you to our campus "move in day" tomorrow morning where we will welcome and help 2,500 of our residential students and their parents unpack their cars and relocate to their new campus homes. We will start at 8 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. If you are able to join us I can virtually guarantee that you will be thoroughly impressed with the creativity of our students as they cram three truckloads of junk into a relatively small place. It truly is an engineering marvel!

The Year in Review

Looking back at last year I would like to begin by expressing once again my sincerest gratitude to each and every faculty and staff member for the sacrifices that you made this past year. The statewide and national successes of Cal State Long Beach keep mounting and our reputation keeps expanding for many great reasons. Last year we were ranked as one of the best higher education university values in the nation by Kiplinger's magazine, U.S.News & World Report, The Princeton Review and many others. In fact, Kiplinger's magazine ranked Cal State Long Beach as the nation's top university for students seeking a university education that will leave them with the lowest amount of student loan debt.

Also, last year we opened numerous new facilities including the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, which has been a big hit since the first day and has recorded nearly 4,000 students per day during the fall and spring semesters. This has had a positive spillover effect on our library usage, student union, and even student attendance at athletic events.

Last year, despite the difficulties of this economy, our fundraising directors and professionals with the help of our vice presidents, deans, chairs, and many others, successfully raised over $26 million, which is our fourth highest year in history. This also helped the quiet phase of our capital campaign to reach over $120 million in gifts and pledged support. I am also pleased to announce that our endowment has bounced back to an all-time high of over $44 million, nearly doubling where it was six years ago.

Last year, because of your commitment and sacrifices, we "once again" graduated one of our largest, most diverse, and most successful graduating classes in our 62-year history, with over 8,700 students receiving 9,100 various degrees. Our success has not gone unacknowledged. In fact, last spring the Education Trust in Washington did a study of 1,200 of the nation's most prominent universities to determine which still excel in the following three areas: (1) university accessibility; (2) affordability; (3) while also demonstrating higher than average graduation rates which offer lower-income students a very good opportunity to graduate. At the end of the study, only five universities were acknowledged as being examples for the nation and Cal State Long Beach was one of them.

Last year our athletic programs not only won the prestigious Big West Conference Commissioner's Cup for athletic success on the playing fields for the second time in three years, but also was one of only a few athletic programs in California to retain a perfect record in the classroom by meeting the Academic Progress Rate standards for all athletic teams. Over the last three years those universities have been UCLA, UC-Berkeley, and Cal State Long Beach. Despite what you are reading with regard to the problems experienced at many other athletic problems, you can feel reassured that we have no interest in operating like them.

Last year, thanks to your efforts, we experienced our second most successful year in external grants and contract funding. In 2010-11 our university generated nearly $40 million in external grants and contracts.

Also last year, thanks to the work of hundreds of faculty, staff, and students on our WASC reaccreditation efforts, we successfully received full accreditation which should secure us for another decade.

Additionally, thanks to the assistance of Dean Roman Kochan, our library staff, and Governor Deukmejian, our campus became one of only two universities in California to become the permanent home of all the historical papers and records of a former governor of the state. Last spring these historical records, which chronicle the history of California for nearly four decades, were relocated from the Hoover Institute at Stanford to Cal State Long Beach at the request of Governor Deukmejian.

Last, but certainly not least, I also would like to thank our campus law enforcement staff for making our safety a top priority for another year. Last year Security Magazine ranked our campus as the third safest university campus in the nation. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering our urban proximity and the fact that our campus is located less than a mile from one of the busiest interstates in the nation.

As for the New Academic Year 2011-2012

We began this year with a major victory in Washington, D.C. Earlier this summer as the "debt ceiling" debates dominated much of the national news, it was feared that after three years of working to get more federal student aid into the hands of our students, it became apparent that our students had become a big target for many rookies on Capitol Hill. For the first time ever, I heard congressional representatives or their staffers refer to student Pell Grants as "student welfare" instead of educational investments that will build the human capital talents of this nation. After many weeks in Washington and thanks to the work of many people including our student organizations, we were able to keep student Pell Grants protected at their current maximum level of $5,550.

Why is this so important to us? CSU students are the largest single recipient of Pell Grants in the nation. In fact, our campus alone has nearly 12,000 Pell Grant-eligible students. To put this in perspective, the entire Ivy League combined, all eight universities, only have 7,000 Pell-eligible students, with endowments that top $80 billion combined. You might think with that kind of wealth these institutions might try to enroll a few more lower income students.

Furthermore, thanks to SAFRA and the adoption of the Direct Lending program eliminating the banks as a middle player and the impact of two major federal economic stimulus packages, our Cal State Long Beach students have seen the amount of federal grant aid increase from a total of $31 million to an all-time high of $58 million last year. This battle is not over, however, and we expect to be in the midst of this debate again later this year.

As we open the 2011-2012 academic year we also start with a big boost in facility improvements. This semester we officially open the much anticipated and badly needed Hall of Science building. This Hall of Science is a $110 million facility and offers state-of-the-art science classrooms and laboratories including 22 research laboratories, 31 teaching laboratories, and two 180-seat lecture halls and two 80-seat lecture halls. We also will begin constructing the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Pavilion and Plaza thanks to a generous private gift which will give our music students and faculty a unique outdoor area for music concerts, classes, and additional office space.

All this good news, however, is much tempered by what I consider very bad news. Here are the hard facts: with no federal stimulus funds, which not only aided our university with substantial financial support in the form of nearly $63 million one-time funds over the last three years saving hundreds of jobs and thousands of classes, and no "maintenance of effort" leverage at the federal level, which placed a limit on how low states can reduce their higher education funding, Sacramento and our state legislature has indirectly decided that public higher education is no longer an important vehicle to economic prosperity. As The Economist's special report published this past April stated, California is "a case study in unintended consequences."

The results are startling and should be eye-opening to anybody concerned about educational opportunities, equity and the future standard of living for our next generation. Like much of the rest of the nation, since 1980 California has disinvested in higher education at a furious pace.

However, one ranking not too flattering to our state is that California is among the nation's 12 worst states in abandoning its commitment to public higher education. Over the last three decades state fiscal support for operating expenses of higher education per $1,000 of personal income, or Tax Effort, is down by over 50 percent from where it was in 1980.

Furthermore, with the new state budget in place, and no more federal "Maintenance of Effort" penalties for reducing state commitments, this pace of abandonment has intensified in California. This year we have already witnessed our university's budget reduced by 24 percent from last year's state budget. For our campus this means that we have lost $37 million in state support that could have been used to hire new faculty, reduce class sizes, improve classrooms and lab space, and provide access to 2,000 more students.

In addition to this new devastating budget, we are expected to lose another $8 million in December when overestimated revenue projections do not meet their target. To highlight the fiscal impact of this state abandonment, it is important to note that just four years ago Cal State Long Beach received nearly 42 percent of its funding from our state. As of this December, we will have dropped below 25 percent, from $6,700 in state support per student to $4,500 per student.

For the UCs and CSUs these reductions are the largest single year state reductions in history. In fact, you have probably recently read or heard that the UCs have crossed a major threshold for the first time and now have become more reliant on student funding than state funding. Well, the same is true for us at CSU Long Beach. Yet, a major difference for us exists in this development. Our student tuition and fees do not exceed the national average and the UC's considerably do. Our student fees are more than $2,000 below the national average.

Unfortunately, this trend indicates that instead of leading our nation in higher education policy development and funding, California has simply become a follower. Our nation witnessed the same threshold shift over a decade ago when students first passed state governments in providing more revenues to higher education. The primary culprit in this has truly been state governments which for decades provided 50 to 60 percent of the needed revenues to higher education and have dropped to approximately 35 percent due to shifting priorities, a lack of progressive thinking, and misguided ideological pledges and coalitions.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, what does all this mean and what can we do about it? First, people want all the social benefits that accrue to their communities through having a higher educated workforce, but increasingly do not want to invest in it. In fact, it has become more commonplace today to hear news sources, individuals, and editorial pages proclaim that higher education is an individual benefit and should be paid for by those individuals directly impacted by its benefits. In other words, in this kind of pre-Horace Mann system, society wants the investment value of a higher educated society but wants to shift all the actual investments to the individual participant. Does this sound familiar? As The Economist pointed out, in California "more than 100 of the initiatives of the past two decades promised something for nothing, such as cutting a tax or expanding a service" or both.

Second, these funding changes mean that more of our state legislators and fellow Californians have become much more interested in the issues of the aging over the issues of generations on the way. Prisons, security and health continue to grow significantly as a percentage of our state budget while higher education and K-12 education get tossed aside. I find it interesting that despite being annually recognized by the Broad Foundation, McKinsey and Company, and the White House as having one of the best urban school districts and K-20 partnerships in the nation, LBUSD's reward was to send out 800 to 1,000 pink slips while also increasing their kindergarten class sizes from 30 to 37 children, much like most other grades. By the way, California already ranks first in the nation in children-to-teacher ratios.

Quite frankly, we are in danger of being the only generation in the history of the United States that leaves the next generation with a lower standard of living and economic expectation. We are in danger of being the only generation in the history of the United States that leaves the next generation with less educational opportunities and chance to attend and succeed in college. In 2008, the United States ranked 24th among 26 OECD nations in the percentage of students who finish their bachelor's degree 13 percentage points below the OECD average. And, we are in danger of witnessing the continual rapid decline of social mobility which has been an American and California ideal since first being projected to the world by Tocqueville, and fundamental to the development of our nation.

What can we do? First, as a university we need to continue to the best of our abilities to do what we do best, educating students and being a national model for public awareness, service to all socioeconomic groups, diversity and accountability. I believe we are the public university that the public wants, they just do not know it yet.

Second, we need to use our teaching, research, and public service to reverse many of the trends I have just discussed. The collective expertise and abilities of our faculty and staff are among the best in the nation and we need to harness these strengths to challenge an aging generation to think differently about California and our nation's future.

Third, we need to hold our legislators accountable for their actual votes. Go beyond their websites, slogans, pamphlets and commercials. Virtually all of our legislators say that education is a priority. It is not what was said but how their vote was cast that tells the real story regarding their commitment to education.

Fourth, we need to seek real state and federal higher education funding changes. At the federal level, we need to create new funding avenues that incentivize institutions to advance comprehensive public missions. Currently, there are very few fiscal incentives to maintaining strong public missions and this is why most public and private universities have reduced their commitments. Also, at the federal level we need to fight to incorporate "Maintenance of Effort" provisions with all higher education funding in order to stop the states from "supplanting" their own resources with federal money. It worked exceptionally well before and is needed badly now.

At the state level, we need to develop new funding formulas that reward institutions meeting state needs. Our university, Cal State Long Beach, ranks among the most efficient universities in the nation, most affordable in the nation, while also serving many of the expensive students in the nation. Furthermore, our graduates clearly demonstrate that a university's price has nothing to do with the quality of education that it offers.

It is because of your dedication and commitment to the children on the way and our students past and present that we are positioned to go forth as a national model for public higher education. We must play an active role through our teaching, research, and service in challenging and changing these disturbing trends. On the policy front we need to educate our legislators and the citizens of California that "grants" are not "student welfare" but useful investments with long term social impact. We also must educate the public at large that society must provide the assistance necessary to keep public universities "public."

Finally, we need to ensure that state and federal funding is going to public higher education institutions. Private higher education continues to siphon off invaluable public funds from Washington to Sacramento with very little end in sight. California has twisted and distorted its priorities long enough. It is part of our mission to set this state on a better course in order to provide our generations on the way a better standard of living, greater equality, and more educational opportunities.

No university in this nation leads better by its example. Thank you for your dedication to our students, and I hope you will welcome these challenges with open arms. And, thank you for your patience and kind attention.

Go Beach!

F. King Alexander
President