Presented by President Dianne F. Harrison
World Theater, CSU Monterey Bay
August 17, 2011

When I came to California State University, Monterey Bay five years ago, I was inspired by our enormous potential and by the prospect of continuing to build and grow the university. Little did I know I would be doing this in the middle of the Great Recession and multiple years of budget cuts, salary freezes and student- and family-jarring fee increases. In spite of our external challenges with changes and budgets, as a university we have continued to move forward and continued to be responsive. When I arrived in 2006, our student enrollment was 3,600. This fall we are expecting almost 5,200 students – a 31 percent increase. In 2006, we broke ground on our new library. This year we are in the planning and design phase for “Academic II” a state-of-the-art building that will house the Schools of Business and Information Technology and Communication Design. In 2006, we had 16 of majors and six graduate programs. In 2011-12, we will have 23 majors and eight graduate programs.

So, how have we been able to make such progress in this environment? In my view, the reason we keep moving forward together – in spite of lean state budgets – is that each of us accepts our individual and collective responsibility as stewards of this institution. And we acknowledge that students are the center and core of our efforts. Through the teaching and research of our faculty, the creative talents of our staff, and the contributions of our students and graduates, we are all making a positive impact on our region, state and nation.

As we begin the 2011-2012 academic year at CSU Monterey Bay, I sense a powerful momentum across this campus. This momentum was apparent last month when WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, reaffirmed our accreditation through 2019. Several other recent accomplishments have underscored our progress and brought us welcome recognition as well. These include a distinguished national award for service learning; the launch of five new bachelor’s degrees; being named the next host campus for CSU Summer Arts; and – thanks to our amazing men’s golf team and Division II Coach of the Year Jason Owen – our first NCAA national championship. At the same time, we continue to increase our enrollment, which as I noted earlier, will surpass 5,000 this fall. We also are retaining and graduating more students, streamlining our business processes, engaging with our communities, reducing our carbon footprint and improving our campus.

CSU Monterey Bay continues to pursue its objectives in the face of undeniable challenges. The California State University system has taken a $650 million cut to its general fund budget for this fiscal year, with the very real prospect of another $100 million reduction mid-year. As a result, our students – especially those from middle-income families – have faced another big increase in their tuition fees this fall: 12 percent on top of a previously scheduled 10 percent. We will do everything we can to help our students with financial aid, which we know will help those with the greatest need. We will also continue to maximize our efforts to raise more private money for scholarships, carefully administer the existing scholarship programs, employ as many of our students as possible on campus, and locate paid internships whenever possible.

Through several straight years of state budget cuts, we have demonstrated our ability to manage our way through adversity by being smart and staying nimble. We remain dedicated to providing our students with a world-class educational experience that culminates in a meaningful degree.
Our efforts will continue to be guided by the four major goals of our 10-year strategic plan: increasing student success, continuing to build a comprehensive university, developing institutional capacity, and hiring and retaining high-quality staff and faculty. This afternoon, I will briefly review our efforts toward each of those goals, as well as discuss our own budget outlook and look ahead to our agenda for 2011-2012.

I think you will agree that everything we do is directly or indirectly motivated by an increase in student success. Increasing that success is the first major goal, and the WASC reaffirmation of accreditation was a significant endorsement of our efforts. Following their final visit in March, WASC’s team of reviewers said, quote, “CSUMB has remained true to its initial vision, yet has initiated and accepted change in ways that make it a stronger institution and keep student learning at its core.” CSU Monterey Bay’s ongoing commitment to the success of every student begins with our outreach to students of every socioeconomic background – and especially to those from underrepresented groups and underserved communities. Just last month, Congressman Sam Farr informed us that our ETS, or Educational Talent Search, program has been funded for an additional five years, having been awarded about $2.5 million in federal dollars for that period. The result is that ETS will continue to provide all-important academic, career and financial aid counseling to 1,200 promising tri-county high school students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of equal importance to these early outreach efforts are our efforts to retain and graduate more of our students, which the WASC commission also recognized. In Fall 2007, just 65 percent of the previous year’s first-time freshmen had re-enrolled the following fall. By Fall 2010, that rate of retention was up to 76 percent, and this fall we hope to achieve our goal of 79 percent. Likewise, our six-year graduation rate has shown steady improvement. Having been as low as 32 percent in 2005, the rate had improved to 41 percent by last year – definitely moving in the right direction toward our CSU Graduation Initiative goal of at least 49 percent by 2015. Everyone here can share in the credit for this accomplishment.

Every aspect of this university – from the efficiency of our business systems to the attentiveness of our faculty and staff – plays a role in promoting the persistence of our students. These efforts are too numerous to detail, but allow me to highlight our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC), which continues to engage many of our most promising students and exemplify our academic mission. Twenty-one UROC students graduated in May, and 10 of those are entering graduate programs this fall. Additionally, six of the graduating students are entering professional careers related to their undergraduate studies, and five are pursuing leads for employment or graduate school.

We all recognize that retaining our students depends on more than academic success alone. Their experience outside the classroom is critical to their overall satisfaction, which in turn makes them more engaged as learners. An example of how we are enhancing students’ co-curricular experience is the increase in club sports, such as rugby and lacrosse, and our intramurals program. Our intramural sports and tournaments had nearly 2,300 participants last year, more than double the number in previous years. Likewise, the quality and breadth of the Outdoor Recreation program is motivating students to take full advantage of the remarkable opportunities in our back yard.

The second major goal of our strategic plan is continuing to develop as a comprehensive university. Our gains toward this objective stem from the scholarship of our outstanding faculty, and recognition of their work through grants and special projects; the expansion of our academic programs; and the many ways we are engaged with our surrounding communities. This past year, six of our faculty members received CSU research, scholarship and creative activity awards. Faculty in our teacher education program received a $1.1 million federal grant to help students obtain a special education credential. During his sabbatical this past year, Professor Rikk Kvitek used grant funding to develop a new jet/fan hybrid mapping boat, called the KelpFly, that can operate in near-shore areas inaccessible to other mapping vessels. Already, PG&E has used the KelpFly to map waters in front of its Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plan to ensure plant safety from earthquake hazards.

Another prime example of faculty accomplishment this past year was CSU Monterey Bay’s outreach program in remedial mathematics, called “Leapfrogging Math.” Thanks to this program, created by Math Department chairman Dr. Hongde Hu and his colleagues, CSUMB was one of only 10 institutions worldwide chosen to receive the EdTech Innovators Award from Hewlett Packard and the New Media Consortium. The financial award, which recognizes pioneers in use of teaching technology, has allowed local high school math instructors and students to attend four weeks of math “boot camp” during the summer, where they help develop new educational strategies using tablet PCs. More than 92 percent of students in this program have passed the two-semester course, compared with a national rate of just under 50 percent.

Essential to our emergence as a comprehensive university is the opportunity for students to choose from among a breadth of majors across several disciplines. This has been an extremely productive year in that regard. We successfully launched our new Master of Social Work program, which has been granted candidacy status for accreditation by the Council of Social Work Education. Four new bachelor’s degrees are starting this fall at CSU Monterey Bay. Three of them – marine science, Spanish, and Japanese Language & Culture – are former degree concentrations, while the fourth, Environmental Studies, combines courses from different departments into an interdisciplinary degree.

We also are celebrating the approval of a new baccalaureate degree in nursing. Set to launch next summer, this will be an exciting collaboration with our four surrounding community colleges. Students will use clinical resources at the community colleges and pursue advanced nursing courses on our campus. The program will produce baccalaureate nurses ready to step into vital patient-care roles, as well as continue on into post-graduate nursing programs. The dramatic growth in our undergraduate majors, from 18 to 23, is accompanied by the opening of a new anatomy and physiology instructional space for our rapidly growing kinesiology program, as well as the addition of a second track in our online MBA program – one designed for students without significant professional experience.

Another distinguishing aspect of a comprehensive university is a deep commitment to community engagement. We continue to expand our regional partnerships, which allow us to serve surrounding communities while also building appreciation and support for our core programs. One enduring success story is CSU Monterey Bay’s extensive involvement in the historic Chinatown neighborhood of Salinas. Our Service Learning Institute, our Visual and Public Art Department, and our Wireless Education Technology Center have partnered with community stakeholders to support positive community change to improve the lives of individuals, and to preserve a unique heritage. Another example of community engagement is right here on campus. The Monterey County Business Council is now sharing office space in the Corporation Building with our own Institute for Innovation and Economic Development, strengthening their partnership to diversify the local economy and stimulate job creation.

The third major goal in the strategic plan is increasing our institutional capacity. This, too, has been an area of dramatic advances on several fronts: improvement of the physical campus environment, our commitment to sustainability, advances in use of technology, and fund-raising.

Over the summer, we deconstructed 70 former military structures on campus. As in the past, 90 percent of the building materials were either reused or recycled. Some of the cleared land is now planned to become a new residence hall complex to address the housing needs of our ever-growing student body. In addition, campus buildings and the residence halls around the Campus Quad have been newly painted; this fall we are repairing the roof and refurbishing the interior of the University Center; and we have begun leasing additional space for classrooms and labs. A new free CSUMB Otter Trolley shuttle system is serving stops throughout Main Campus every eight minutes.

The busy team in Facilities Management and Planning has also been working on a number of other projects to make campus buildings more energy efficient, encourage recycling, and facilitate alternative transportation. Our campus sustainability efforts – and the deep integration of this core value into our curriculum – have enabled our attainment of a gold rating in STARS, which is a self-reported sustainability tracking system administered by AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. We submitted our first STARS report on July 29 and immediately joined an elite group of U.S. colleges and universities that share the gold rating. We became the first CSU and only the second public university in California to receive that distinction. Next, we will set our sights on the highest rating, platinum, which no school has yet attained.

Another aspect of growing our institutional capacity is making sure that we continue to use cutting-edge technology across the campus. Given the constant changes in our own needs, and the rapid pace of change in an array of technological arenas, this can be a particularly difficult and expensive challenge. But we have had many successes to date. Our Information Technology (IT) and Strategic Communications continue to partner on development of new tools for communication and marketing, including a redesign of that is extending the time visitors spend on the site, a new mobile website, and a revamped version of the intranet portal, MyCSUMB. Our innovative Tech Rent store that lets students rent the newest technology at low prices is so successful that it now has a branch at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and will soon be operating at Monterey Peninsula College. And IT is working with University Police on an upgrade of our building security systems.

In order to build our institutional capacity, we must be able to attract private financial support. Given the loss of general fund money from the state, this never has been more important than it is today. I am very grateful to the board of directors of our new Foundation of CSUMB, which was created to help us maximize our philanthropic fund-raising and protect and grow our assets. They are raising awareness of our overall need for private support and of specific gift opportunities that are our highest priorities, such as funding for our next academic building.

The fourth and final major goal in our 10-year strategic plan is hiring and retaining high-quality faculty and staff. We have been moving on several tracks, with clear results in each. As I noted at the campus budget forum in May, we continue to hire tenure-track faculty, including nine who are starting this fall. These faculty members come from Princeton, University of Wisconsin, Northern Arizona University, Portland State University, Georgia State University, and New York City College of Technology, as well as from CSU Monterey Bay. This university is hiring and promoting with a focus on excellence. We are able to attract top talent not because of our extravagant salaries (which are unfortunately often among the lowest in the system), but because of the important work we do together as part of our mission and because of the university Vision, which virtually every new employee cites as an incredible statement of aspirational values and goals.

As you can see, we have had many accomplishments in the past year and we have made progress in many areas. I sincerely appreciate the outstanding work so many of you are doing on behalf of this university and our students. Author Lewis Carroll famously said that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Clearly, that doesn’t apply to us. Thanks to our strategic plan, and these four major goals, we know where we are headed. I believe our challenge in the coming year, and for several more years to come, is to maintain the determination that has served us so well – the determination to continue CSU Monterey Bay’s historic journey as a comprehensive university, in service to our students.

We must recommit ourselves to continuous improvement in each of the areas outlined by the WASC commission:

  • We will steadily raise the bar for our students through increased academic rigor, preparing them to succeed in college and careers. Implementation of the Early Start program to complete remediation before Fall enrollment will help ensure that more students are ready for college-level work in their first fall semester as freshmen.
  • We will do all we can to encourage our students to stay in school and give them a clear path to completing their degree within four years – and no more than six. An essential part of this will be implementation, beginning next fall, of the “Otter Model” for a revised general education curriculum.
  • We will find ways to manage and scale academic strengths such as capstones in a way that is sustainable as we add more students.
  • We will constantly review our efforts to ensure that we are applying best practices in every area of our endeavor, while embracing a culture of evidence to complete that evaluation.

We must also recognize and cope with the reality that relief from tight budgets is not on the immediate horizon. In fact, things could still get worse before they get better. It is highly likely that the CSU will have to absorb that additional mid-year cut of $100 million to be triggered if state revenue doesn’t reach sufficient levels. We do not yet know exactly how that will be managed, but we probably will have to absorb at least some part of it and will be planning on how to do that in the weeks and months ahead.

As proud as I am of our enrollment gains, which helped stave off what would have been a $5.1 million cut for the coming fiscal year, I am also saddened that we have had to turn away more than 3,000 qualified students for this fall. Given the continued budget uncertainty, we may admit only a few students in the spring semester, and our growth toward our eventual goal of 10,000 students will be slower than I would like. This has impacts, of course, on growing faculty, staff and new space. Spending limits we have instituted on equipment, repairs and so on will remain for the foreseeable future. Open positions will be filled on a case-by-case basis, where the need is greatest. We will keep making careful use of one-time funds, such as we have for a computer refresh, improved building security and replacing leaky roofs. And we will join with other CSU campuses to seek savings through operational synergies, where they make sense, in such areas as IT, business practices and even academic programs.

I might say that it “could be much worse” and point to the experience of some of the larger CSUs, which have undergone cuts as deep as 21 percent of their general fund budgets. But I recognize how hard this has been on all of you – and how grinding it is to face year after year of austerity, with no salary increase and the recent memory of furloughs. In an effort to help, I plan to make additional funds available to support the operational budgets for each college. Even as we do everything we can as a campus to make sure that California’s budget crisis does not stop our progress as a university, I think we all recognize that the state as a whole is at a crossroads. We have experienced an unconscionable disinvestment in higher education. The time has come when our elected officials – and the people of California– will have to decide whether they are willing to fund education of the skilled workforce the state will need to compete and succeed in the 21st century.

Across the country, as tuition increases accelerate and the national economy stagnates, we hear talk of a higher education “bubble” – a concern that the cost of a college degree may be outpacing its benefits. I do not believe that is the situation at CSU Monterey Bay, or across the CSU as a whole. We are delivering tremendous value to our students, and I mean that in a sense far beyond any dollar-and-cents calculation of return on investment. But it is up to us to uphold that value. We will do that by continuing to elevate the educational experience we offer our students and by ensuring that the public is well aware of what we contribute, both on behalf of our students and by enriching our surrounding communities and the state as a whole. That will require a commitment to excellence that I am confident you all share.