By CSUMB President Eduardo M. Ochoa
In the early 1990s, Monterey County faced a potential economic calamity. The impending closure of Fort Ord put tens of thousands of private-sector jobs at risk, threatening to slash tax revenues and the budgets of schools and government agencies.
In response, community leaders came together to support a visionary plan, focused on the creation of a new Cal State University campus on the abandoned military base.
Long-time residents may find it hard to believe, but this academic year Cal State Monterey Bay is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And I believe it is fulfilling the hopes of those who saw a public university as an invaluable asset in the transition and continued prosperity of the Central Coast economy.
Evidence of the growing academic reputation of CSUMB came in the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings. In the West region, which is made up of 14 states ranging from Texas to Alaska and Hawaii, CSUMB was rated #8 among public regional universities and #26 among all regionals, public and private.
U.S. News also rated CSUMB as one of the top three regional universities in the West in promoting social mobility.
When Money Magazine ranked our nation’s most transformational colleges – those schools that help students achieve more that would be expected based on their academic and economic backgrounds -- CSUMB was placed 16th nationwide, outpacing 728 other universities and colleges.
At a time of ever-widening gaps between the rich and poor, the role of education in addressing those issues is particularly urgent.
A Public Policy Institute of California study, released earlier this year, found that economic polarization poses a threat to our state’s future prosperity.
“Ensuring access to education that prepares the state’s increasingly diverse workers for in-demand jobs is a key challenge both for future economic growth and for the economic well-being of California’s families,” the report states.
“Because the state economy demands a highly skilled workforce, education plays a crucial role in helping California remain economically competitive. Promoting education is also an important strategy for addressing inequality and improving economic mobility.”
More than half of CSUMB students are the first generation of their families to attend college; about a third are classified as low-income.
That’s why rankings that show CSUMB producing positive results with students from all backgrounds are so gratifying.
Since its founding, Cal State Monterey Bay has focused on providing educational opportunities for low-income and minority students who were not being adequately served by existing four-year institutions. Our recent rankings success reflects the progress we have made in improving retention and graduation rates for all students, while keeping our tuition and fees well below national averages.
In recent years, we also have built stronger ties to our area’s excellent community colleges – including Hartnell, Monterey Peninsula and Cabrillo colleges – to provide affordable and accessible pathways for all students seeking four-year degrees.
We recognize that our existence is the result of a strongly committed community, which saw the creation of a new university not just as a stopgap to meet a short-term crisis, but as a long-term strategy. The goal was and is to provide opportunities for a broad cross-section of our residents.
Back in 1992, the Fort Ord Community Task Force called the military base’s closure a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… to reclaim this land and use it to enhance the quality of life in the region.”
We think we are doing pretty well in fulfilling that vision. We invite you all to see for yourselves on Oct. 12 at “Discover CSUMB: Open Campus,” the next big event of our 25th anniversary celebration.
The day-long (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) celebration is one way of saying “Welcome” and “Thank you” to the community that was instrumental in our founding 25 years ago.