CSU Chancellor-elect Joe Castro ]
Chancellor-elect of CSU Joe Castro
An unprecedented pandemic clarifies what is California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro's top priority: to safely reopen all 23 state campuses for face-to-face classes this fall.
Just over a month after his tenure as the leader of the nation's largest public university system, Castro spoke to EdSource about his priorities for his first 100 days. Castro also wants to focus on closing income gaps and racial equity in graduation rates, restoring last year's state budget cuts, improving teacher diversity, and investigating better ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning.
"We are still committed to returning to most of the classroom courses in the fall of 2021," Castro said. “Of course, that depends on the conditions that allow us to do it. And if the course of the virus, or the data, or the availability of the vaccine, or if our medical experts indicate that that approach is no longer feasible, then we will make that adjustment. ”
Last fall, CSU made headlines for bucking national trends and showing growth in enrollment in its freshman classes despite the pandemic. But there are concerns that growth will not be repeated this fall. Applications for all 23 campuses are down by about 5%, and fewer California students are completing financial aid applications, another indicator for colleges of what to expect in the fall. In December, two weeks before the extended application deadline, CSU announced that it would reopen campuses in the fall to help students and their families decide early on college plans.
But Castro knows that much of the system's success is linked to offering most of the courses in person. And that can't happen without a host of other factors, such as improving “the availability of vaccines in a timely manner, the ability (of the administration) to inspire our campuses to get vaccinated, and regulations on the kind of density requirements that we'll need meet in the fall, ”he said. "Those are all the things that are still open."
There will also be variations in the way that each campus will return to face-to-face classes, Castro said, adding that those differences will depend on what is happening in the communities of those universities.
Cal State LA made national news last week as a Covid-19 vaccination pilot site, as part of a joint federal and state partnership with the new Biden Administration. Meanwhile, 13 more campuses have been approved or are going through an approval process to provide vaccines to their regions and communities, Castro said. Those campuses include CSU Long Beach, Bakersfield, Maritime Academy, Monterey Bay, Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona, Sacramento State, San Diego, San Francisco, San José, San Marcos, and Stanislaus.
"We are going to do everything we can to support our campuses and community in terms of vaccinations," he said. “But I'm also hoping that we get some guidance from the state, in terms of density requirements for classroom and lab facilities, and that will be an important consideration when thinking about how quickly we can repopulate our campuses in the fall. . ”
Meanwhile, Castro said administrators are aggressively reaching out to incoming and prospective students because the decline in applications this year has been worrisome.
"It's still too early to tell … the process has not fully developed. It is concerning that the FAFSA rates are lower, and I certainly hear stories in some schools where applications are slower than before," he said. "All of that is deeply concerning, but at the same time, we have been very aggressive in reaching out and trying to make sure that students and families know what to do next. "
Two factors that would help with the reopening of campus would be the 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 Governor Gavin Newsom proposed in the January budget. CSU is requesting $ 365 million in recurring dollars from the state, including restoration of the $ 299 million cut by the state last summer, and an additional $ 565 million in one-time aid to fund maintenance of academic facilities, he said. Newsom proposed $ 144.5 million in his January budget, a 3% increase from last year, in recurring money and a one-time allocation of $ 225 million to CSU. However, Newsom's supply is still below pre-pandemic levels.
Newsom's proposal also did not require an enrollment increase for the 2021-22 academic year, which Castro announced two weeks ago.
"I want to make it very clear to those students who are already at CSU or who are thinking of coming to CSU that there will be no tuition increase," he said. But Castro also announced that there would be no additional faculty and staff licenses or layoffs, as campuses tightened their belts due to the cuts.
"I totally empathize with the stress that exists," he said, referring to staff and faculty. "After speaking with the presidents, we agreed that we were going to do everything in our power to avoid additional layoffs due to budget considerations."
The extra money and reassuring faculty and staff play a role in enhancing CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025, Castro said. That initiative is CSU's goal of increasing the four-year graduation rate for first-time students to 40% and the six-year goal to 70%. The four-year rate is currently up to 31 percent and the six-year rate is 62 percent.
The new chancellor has already commissioned a committee to examine how the initiative could close equity gaps with low-income students and among underrepresented and white students. CSU's board of directors will see that report in July, he said. Increasing diversity among teachers can also help students stay in school and graduate.
Castro said he began discussions with University of California President Michael Drake to identify new strategies that would help CSU graduates with bachelor's and master's degrees earn their doctorates at UC or private universities and then return as members of the Cal State College.
“We are the most diverse public university in the country and we are beginning to see more diversity in our master's programs,” Castro said. "But we don't have the authority to award most PhDs, and if you want to be a faculty member at CSU, for the most part, you need to have that final degree."
He added: "I think we could do it," he said. "But it will take some creative strategies, financial support, and both systems working together."
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