California State University Update

Just over a third of American adults have a four-year college degree, the highest level ever measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. In a report released earlier this year, the Census Bureau said 33.4 percent of Americans 25 or older said they had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a sharp rise from the 28 percent with a college degree a decade ago.

One could argue that the California State University System has played a major role in this increase. Currently, 5 percent of our nation’s graduates come from the CSU System. In California, one in ten people who hold a job are a graduate of the CSU System and 50 percent of Apple’s workforce comes from CSU campuses. In LA, the five Cal States in the Region provide almost 200 degree programs to more than 140,000 students.

But inequality remains and starts early. In 2015, 23 percent of American children under 3 grew up in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. By the time children reach first grade, there are already big gaps, based on parents’ income, in academic skills like reading and writing. For those students lucky enough to get themselves through K-12 and into the CSU system, this is where the CSU’s schools in LA really have an impact.

When measuring how our nation’s universities provide access to poor students, multiplied by their success in economically advancing those students, Cal State LA and Cal Poly Pomona ranked among the highest according to recent research by the Equality of Opportunity project, helmed by Stanford’s Raj Chetty, Brown’s John Friedman and Harvard’s Nathaniel Hendren. They show that the true heroes are less selective schools that let in a large number of students from the bottom 20 percent and propel them into the top fifth of income in the U.S. after graduation.

When it comes to what public universities do best when it comes to diversity, CSUN and Cal State Long Beach rank among the highest in the nation. Prestigious private colleges and universities have deep pockets, fancy buildings and renowned faculty. But public schools have something they dearly want: diversity. According to a recent Wall Street Journal Reportthere are a handful of national public schools that are drawing students from their immediate areas and appealing to low-income and first-generation college students. State-backed institutions in major cities seem to be most successful at bringing in a racially and socioeconomically diverse student body. Academics say class discussions often become richer when students from different backgrounds engage on topics like religion and politics.

At a time of heightened political polarization and economic stratification, many say there could be long-term societal value in forcing those individuals to interact. Overall, ten campuses from the California State University system made the top 27 on environment. CSUN, took the No. 2 spot for environment. More than 40 percent of undergraduate students at CSUN identified as Hispanic in fall 2015, the latest figures available on the school’s website, and more than half are low-income. Cal State Long Beach ranked eighth.

Finally, Cal State Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) has a unique place in the CSU system. With more than 65 percent of its alumni working and living within a 25 mile radius of the campus, its regional economic impact is evidently clear. With over 85 percent of students coming from underrepresented communities and over 60 percent being first in their families to attend college, its mission is to bridge the skill gap in those communities served and beyond. Furthermore, 65 percent of the students are women and 74 percent of those working towards their Graduate/Post-Baccalaureate are women.

This past week at CSUDH was inspirational.

CSUDH is a top producer of credentialed math and science teachers, graduating more than 1,000 between 2012-2015. But there is so much more that needs to be done to inspire students.

This week Dr. Willie Hagan and his team unveiled the first of what will become a fleet of four new mobile fabrication laboratories (fab labs). These Fab Labs – large trailers pulled by Toyota Tundra trucks – will bring much needed resources to K-12 students, educators and communities in the greater L.A. region. The goal is to develop high technology-driven programs that teach digital fabrication, and the computational literacy skills to prepare youth for college and the global workplace. Toyota and the W.M. Keck Foundation funded the labs to CSUDH to put theoretical scientific and engineering concepts in the hands of students to bring STEM to life. The labs are equipped with tools and technology, such as 3D printers, scanners, modeling software, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, CNC mills, and electronic components for prototyping projects.

By bringing innovative technology out in the community, these Fab Labs will help to promote science readiness to underserved minorities. Only 26 percent of African American and 30 percent of Hispanic graduating students attain ACT college readiness benchmarks, compared to 71 percent of white students and 68 percent among Asian students.

Another milestone in the university’s history was achieved this week, when the university broke ground on a new Science and Innovation Building on campus.  This 91,000-square-foot, three story building will house physics, biology and chemistry disciplines and will transform STEM learning and support innovation in the South Bay and across greater Los Angeles.

This building will also house the Toyota Center for Innovation in STEM Education that includes a permanent fab lab. Toyota USA Foundation has donated $4 million to support the design, construction, and equipment for the Science and Innovation Building. While the mobile fab labs will reach the high schools in the greater L.A. region, this permanent lab will attract K-16 students to the campus, exposing them to a university atmosphere while getting them excited about going into STEM fields.

The total cost of the Science and Innovation Building is $82 million, and it is mainly supported with a $67 million contribution from the CSU Chancellor’s Office.  CSUDH is tasked with raising funds to bridge this $15 million gap.  With a lead gift of $4 million from the Toyota USA Foundation, CSUDH needs to raise $11 million to make this dream real and propel the region forward. The naming right for the building remains available, in addition to many naming opportunities for the labs and innovation commons.

CSUDH also just won four federal Upward Bound grants worth $5.2 million to help 240 students at Carson, Hawthorne, Leuzinger, Gardena and Jefferson high schools prepare students for college through 2022. The needs are great. High-wage, in-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 28.2 percent by 2024 — more than four times the rate of other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But only 68 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students who graduated in 2008 enrolled in college. Of those, only 25 percent obtained a college degree within six years, according to a recently published UCLA study.

And lastly, CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan announced his retirement. His presidency has been marked by an unwavering commitment to student academic achievement. Through expanded student support services that have garnered national attention, the implementation of proven high-impact student success initiatives, facilities and infrastructure upgrades, and a multi-year tenure/tenure-track faculty hiring plan, student graduation rates and time to degree have significantly risen at CSUDH over the last five years, and the university has experienced unprecedented enrollments.

Under Hagan’s leadership, CSUDH received numerous accolades, including a top 15 master’s degree-granting ranking for contribution to public good; the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll President’s Award, which is the highest honor given by the federal government for a university’s commitment to serving the community; and recognition at the national level that a degree from CSUDH improves the upward mobility of its graduates. 

With his forward-thinking vision for the university, Hagan also set plans in place for campus growth and sustained financial stability. This year, CSUDH not only begins construction of its Science and Innovation Building, plans are also moving forward on new student housing and a cutting- edge educational facility that will also house the College of Business Administration and Public Policy.

Final thought – All children may be born with the ability to think like creative scientists and it is important that we make sure that those abilities are nurtured, not neglected. Thankfully LA’s CSU campuses and their leaders are doing just that. Thank you!