Photo courtesy of the CSU
The elected Chancellor of the CSU, Joe Castro
Photo courtesy of the CSU
The elected Chancellor of the CSU, Joe Castro
In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, it is clear what the top priority of California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro is – safely reopening its 23 state one-on-one teaching locations this fall.
Just over a month after serving as head of the country’s largest public university system, Castro spoke to EdSource about his priorities for his first 100 days. Castro also wants to focus on addressing income and racial equality gaps in graduation rates, restoring cuts in the state budget from last year, improving faculty diversity, and exploring better ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning.
“We continue to aim to return to most in-person courses in the fall of 2021,” said Castro. “That depends of course on the conditions under which we can do this. And if the course of the virus, or the dates, or the availability of vaccines, or if our medical experts suggest that an approach is no longer possible, we will make that adjustment. “
Last fall, the CSU hit the headlines because it defied national trends and, despite the pandemic, registered a growth in enrollments in its freshmen classes. However, there are concerns that the growth may not repeat itself this fall. Applications at the 23 locations are down about 5%, and fewer California students are filling out financial aid applications – another indicator for colleges of what to expect this fall. In December, two weeks before the extended application deadline, the CSU announced that it would reopen the campus in the fall to help students and their families make early decisions about college plans.
- Safe reopening of campus for personal lessons in fall 2021
- Closing equity gaps as part of the 2025 graduation initiative
- Working with state and federal lawmakers to invest financially in the CSU
- Create new strategies to improve faculty diversity
- Explore better ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning
However, Castro knows that much of the system’s success depends on most courses being offered in person. And that cannot be done without a variety of other factors, such as: These include improving vaccine availability in a timely manner, the ability of the administration to encourage vaccination on our sites, and regulations on the type of density requirements we will have to meet in the fall, ”he said. “These are all things that are still open.”
There will also be differences in how each campus would return to face-to-face courses, Castro said, adding that those differences will depend on what happens in those universities’ communities.
Cal State LA posted national news as a pilot site for Covid-19 vaccinations last week as part of a joint federal and state partnership with the new Biden Administration. Meanwhile, 13 more sites have been approved or are going through an approval process to provide their regions and communities with vaccines, Castro said. These locations include CSU Long Beach, Bakersfield, Maritime Academy, Monterey Bay, Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona, State of Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San José, San Marcos and Stanislaus.
“We will do everything we can to support our campus and community with vaccination,” he said. “But I also hope we can get some guidance from the state regarding density requirements for teaching and laboratory facilities, and this will be an important consideration when we think about how quickly we can repopulate our US locations.”
Meanwhile, Castro said, administrators are aggressively targeting incoming and prospective students as the decline in applications this year has been worrying.
“It is too early to say that the process has not yet played out completely. It is worrying that FAFSA rates are lower and I have certainly heard of stories in some schools where applications are slower than before, ”he said. “This is all very worrying, but at the same time we have been very aggressive in our public relations, trying to make sure that students and families know what to do next.”
Two factors that would help reopen the campus would be additional federal and state dollars. On the federal front, Castro said campuses are still waiting to receive the $ 853 million in Covid relief that Congress approved in December.
Castro is asking for more than what Governor Gavin Newsom proposed in the January budget. The CSU is demanding US $ 365 million from the state for recurring US dollars, including the restoration of the US $ 299 million it cut last summer and an additional US $ 565 million for one-time maintenance funding for academic institutions, he said. Newsom proposed $ 144.5 million in its January budget – a 3% year-over-year increase – for recurring funds and a one-time allocation of $ 225 million for the CSU. However, Newsom’s offering is still below pre-pandemic levels.
Newsom’s proposal also did not require an increase in tuition fees for the 2021-22 academic year, which Castro announced two weeks ago.
“I would like to make it very clear to the students who are already at the CSU or who are thinking about joining the CSU that there would be no increase in tuition fees,” he said. However, Castro also announced there would be no vacation days for faculty and staff or additional layoffs as campuses tightened their belts due to the cuts.
“I can fully empathize with the stress that is out there,” he said, referring to staff and teachers. “After talking to the presidents, we agreed that we would do everything in our power to avoid additional layoffs for budgetary reasons.”
The extra money and reassurance to faculty and staff all play a role in improving the CSU’s 2025 graduation initiative, Castro said. This initiative is the goal of the CSU to increase the four-year graduation rate for freshmen to 40% and the six-year target to 70%. The four-year rate is currently up to 31% and the six-year rate is 62%.
The new Chancellor has already hired a committee to investigate how the initiative could address equity gaps among low-income students as well as between white and under-represented students. The board of trustees of the CSU will see this report in July, he said. The increasing diversity of faculties can also help students stay in school and graduate.
Castro said he had started conversations with the President of the University of California Michael Drake to identify new strategies that would help CSU graduates with undergraduate and graduate degrees to graduate and graduate from either UC or private universities then return as faculty members at Cal State.
“We are the most diverse public university in the country and we are gradually seeing more diversity in our Masters programs,” said Castro. “But we are not authorized to award most doctorates, and if you want to be a faculty member at CSU for the most part, you must have this degree.”
He added, “I think we could do it,” he said. “But it will take some creative strategy, financial support, and both systems working together.”
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