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2012 President's Welcome Address

At the conclusion of the last academic year, you and I had no idea that I would be standing here as your interim president. And notwithstanding the information on our campus web site and the press coverage, some of you may not yet be familiar with my background and how I came to join you at CSUMB a month ago.

I have spent most of my academic career—twenty-nine years—as a faculty member and academic administrator in the CSU in four different campuses, most recently as Provost at Sonoma State University. However, for the past two years, I have been privileged to serve our country as President Obama’s appointee to the post of Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.

In that capacity, I was the principal advisor to the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on postsecondary education issues. I also headed the Office of Postsecondary Education, a $3 billion operation that manages the eight TRIO and the GEARUP student support programs, programs that support minority-serving institutions, the FIPSE program, Fulbright-Hays faculty fellowships, international and foreign language education, and a number of teacher preparation support programs.

In addition, OPE manages the recognition process for accreditation agencies that is tied to student eligibility for Federal student financial aid, as well as developing policy and regulation of the Federal student aid program. During this two year period, I also was privileged to work with the White House Domestic Policy Council and the President as he turned his attention to the college affordability issue and the problems associated with the disproportionate use of Federal student loans and high default rates associated with for-profit universities.

I worked closely with the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics to promote Latino college access and success. Finally, I advocated for the need for higher education to speak to the country with one voice to make the case for shared responsibility by families, institutions, and government in achieving the President’s college completion goal for 2020.

These assignments truly constituted the experience of a lifetime, and I will always treasure the opportunity to serve our country that was given to me.

However, after two intense years in Washington, I longed to return to a campus environment. Unexpectedly, Chancellor Reed gave me that opportunity by offering me the position of interim president of Cal State Monterey Bay when Dianne Harrison was selected as president of Cal State Northridge. It only took me 24 hours to realize that this was a wonderful opportunity to lead an outstanding university in a beautiful setting which is poised to make the next quantum advance in quality and regional and national impact, even as we face a challenging national and state environment.

And we do face “interesting times”, as the Chinese curse describes them. The United States is operating in a multipolar world which is ever more tightly interconnected by the global information economy. In this world, instant global communication makes all the traditional factors of production increasingly mobile: labor, land, capital, and information/knowledge. The only remaining scarce resource is creativity: the ability to invent and meet new needs that delight and enrich our lives. And the key to foster and expand creativity is … education, ever higher and more widespread levels of education.

Realizing this, President Obama issued a bold challenge to our country to once again become the most educated nation in the world by the year 2020. This goal has several dimensions: it means insuring that all working-age Americans have at least one year of postsecondary education. It also means raising the proportion of Americans with college degrees from 40 to 60% (although the latter is a moving target: South Korea has now exceeded 60%). Currently, we are 16th in the world in the proportion of 25-34 year-olds with a postsecondary degree or credential. The US will therefore lose its global economic competitiveness unless we turn these trends around decisively.

In order to do so, and in order to meet growing student demand, US public higher education (where the majority of degrees are conferred) will need to expand its capacity substantially.

In addition, minority college participation rates (especially by Latinos) will have to increase substantially in order to meet the overall national goal. As current school-age children reach college age, the demographic mix will drive overall college-going rates down unless we succeed in raising the historical participation rates of minorities.

At just the time when we need greater educational capacity for our IHEs, states across the country—who have traditionally funded public higher education—are disinvesting in our sector. The reasons for it are clear, if inexcusable: higher health care Federal mandates; higher pension obligations; a high state budget share of non-discretionary items; exploding prison populations; and lack of political will to raise taxes in the face of shrinking state revenues.

The colliding trends were acutely felt at the Federal level, even as the tools available to counter them were perceived to be limited. The President’s 2013 budget proposal contained two programs aimed at the problem: Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion, and FIPSE/First in the World. RTT/CAC is a $1 billion State competitive grant program that would require states to commit to several reform measures aimed at increasing graduation numbers, including providing stable, reasonable funding levels for public higher education. FIPSE/FTW is a $50 million competitive program aimed at IHEs and non-profits to fund innovative methods of instruction and related services that lead to increased graduation numbers while preserving quality and reducing costs per degree.

The former program sought to leverage the competitive application process to catalyze reform plans and implementation beyond the funded states. The latter program aims to stimulate a cultural transformation in higher education that will focus faculty and staff innovation not only on quality improvements as has been traditionally the case, but also on increased efficiency and reduced costs.

Clearly, if the 2020 education goal is to be achieved, state funding for higher education will need to be stabilized. But it is equally clear that traditional models and traditional cost structures of higher education that were adequate when only 15 or 20% of the population went to college will not be sustainable at 60% or higher levels. And this for two reasons: one, because there will not be sufficient funding; and two, because disruptive technological innovations will—one way or another—displace or at least supplement the traditional methods.

We are living in an era of dizzying, accelerating technological change, driven fundamentally by the advent of the microprocessor and the geometric explosion of computing power it has engendered. As the author Michio Kaku relates in his book Physics of the Future, one of our current smartphones has more computing power than was deployed in all of NASA when we landed on the moon in 1969. The chip in a singing greeting card has more computing power than all the Allied forces that defeated Hitler in 1945. And a $300 Sony Playstation today has more computing power than a multimillion dollar military supercomputer circa 1997.

When millions of computational operations can be performed per second and billions of bits of information transmitted at near the speed of light, it is clear that the resource constraint assumptions underlying the design of every aspect of modern life are being revolutionized—including those of teaching and learning.

These mind-boggling advances in computing are allowing us to amass and have instantly available enormous amounts of data from which patterns and associations can be detected that would have in the past taken a lifetime of expert learning to access, or would have never been detected at all. Now these are available and replicable through artificial intelligence programs and big data analytics to apply to a proliferating variety of uses—including teaching and learning.

We are also seeing for the first time—and aided by technology—the systematic scientific study of how humans learn, and how the brain functions. And these advances in basic science are ripe for application to pedagogy, to the practice and technology of teaching and learning.

The confluence of these scientific and technological advances combined with the pressure to increase educational capacity are creating the conditions for a perfect storm of disruptive technical innovation upending an established industry by the entry of new actors organized around new business models, built from the ground up to take advantage of the disruptive technology and its new cost structure. The parallels with what has happened in other industries have been well analyzed by Christensen in his seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma and others.

For higher education, the process is beginning, but a stable new model has not been established yet. For-profits or non-profits, MOOCs, distance learning, big data approaches to advising and scheduling, learning styles, flipping classrooms, Khan Academy, competency-based credentialing, the list is long and growing. However, make no mistake, the traditional model of higher education—with its high overhead costs, its slow pace of curricular change, its mission creep—is under siege.

Just as MP3 players replaced high-cost restricted access to high-fidelity music with cheap, convenient universal access to moderate-fidelity music, a new model of postsecondary education is in the process of creation that will provide cheap, universally accessible higher education of acceptable (?) quality for narrowly defined purposes. And such a “product” may prove very popular with a substantial segment of the growing market for higher education.

Confronted with this environment, traditional institutions of higher education—place-based, with substantial investments in physical and human infrastructure—will be challenged to identify and communicate its unique and irreplaceable value to society and to the individual student. And I think that we can. There is already great work being done in this regard by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Their LEAP learning outcomes are a commendable distillation of the general educational outcomes that every baccalaureate degree needs to provide in the 21st century. These go beyond narrow learning aimed at a specific occupation or career path, and are in fact the most practical learning outcomes in a world of exploding information where the specific content knowledge of a degree is largely obsolete after a few years and where students will change occupations multiple times in their working lives.

For traditional-age students in particular, a campus-based education also provides an opportunity and resources for the tricky process of maturation into adulthood through co-curricular activities and living and working in close proximity to peers and mentors who act as role models and allow young adult to acquire the social skills that will be essential for the workplace and for democratic engagement.

If the profile of the student body was like it was in the past—that of an elite socioeconomic stratum, with college-educated parents who understand and value the benefits of a broad liberal education beyond credentialing—then the disruptive technologies out there would not pose an existential threat to traditional colleges and universities, as they indeed will not to such elite bastions as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, et al. But as we know, the required growth in college attainment will come precisely from expanded access to those segments of our population that do not fit that profile: namely first-generation, minority students. And those students and their families are the ones least familiar with the broader purposes of a liberal education and will be most susceptible to a product offering that is more narrowly focused on short-run workforce preparation but is more convenient, more accessible, and costs less.

So the segments of higher education that are most threatened by the coming disruption are small, second- and third-tier private non-profit residential colleges, and less selective public universities that experience vanishing state support and must increasing rely on tuition to cover operating costs.

If those institutions are to meet that challenge, they will have to find a way to incorporate the new technologies and pedagogies to lower their costs, while preserving the fuller range of learning outcomes possible in a campus-based model.

Turning now to California, we find in effect a more extreme version of the national landscape. California has experienced among the largest decreases in state funding for public higher education, both in relative and absolute terms. The increases in student fees, while large in relative terms, have not kept up with the cuts in state support, so funding per FTES has actually declined.

Statewide the percentage of 25-year-olds with a college degree has continued to rise slightly, but is not keeping up with the needs of the labor market, and is among the lowest by state. The constrained capacity of public higher education in California has led to dramatic growth in the for-profit sector, which relies disproportionately on Federal student aid and—with some exceptions—has low graduation rates, high student indebtedness and high loan default rates. The need for both better state funding and increased efficiencies in the public sector is most acute in California.

Under the current CSU cost structure, the system is suffering from a structural deficit of $130 million. If proposition 30 does not pass, the CSU will experience an additional $250 million in cuts. For our campus, the failure of proposition 30 would exhaust campus reserves in 2012-13, but would otherwise not lead to further cuts this year. However, starting in 2013-14, we would need to substantially reduce our costs. As it would for the CSU system as a whole, all of those cuts would require very difficult and unpalatable decisions in the short and medium run under our current cost structure. Over the long run, however, it should be possible to achieve efficiencies through innovation that could lead to permanent cost reductions without loss of quality.

The short-run picture is grim: an increasingly competitive global economy where states and nations are in the proverbial race between education and technology; a state budget and political landscape that portends a permanently reduced level of support for higher education; and a growing education gap that hobbles our state economy and creates an ill-informed citizenry that weakens our democracy.

We cannot stand idly by while our state and our democracy decline. We need to break the gridlock and defeatism that infects our political dialogue. And our institutions of higher education must assume their role as intellectual leaders to help our country conceptualize a new vision for renewal, including in our own back yard.

In this challenging national and state environment, I see Cal State Monterey Bay as uniquely equipped to make a significant contribution to the renewal of the promise of California and by extension, the American promise. Institutions of higher education must launch a burst of innovation and creativity to address our resource and educational challenges in this new era. We must do so while extending the benefits of education to previously excluded groups—especially Latinos—who will become an increasing important portion of our citizenry and work force. And we must equip them and all our students with the multicultural competencies that will allow them to thrive in the new global society.

And this is why I am so excited to be at Monterey Bay now. In reading the founding Vision statement for our campus, I see all these elements there at the origin, as part of the DNA of this institution. The founding values of CSUMB were prescient and have become increasingly critical to effectively providing a world-class higher education experience to our students, as well as to being a key resource for the cultural and economic development of our surrounding community. I can’t wait to get started with all of you on this exciting and critical task.

I would like to turn now to some of the notable accomplishments of the past year at CSUMB. In our core academic mission, we implemented five timely new degree programs: Environmental Studies, Japanese Language and Culture, Spanish, Marine Science, and Nursing, the latter running on a self-support basis. We also completed implementation of the new General Education program, the Otter Model, which will facilitate our service to transfer students.

To support faculty research by untenured faculty, we developed and implemented the Faculty Incentive Grants (FIG) program. We successfully completed our first season as the host campus for the CSU Summer Arts program, which will remain at our campus for at least four more years. This program has great potential for synergies with the rich arts scene in the Monterey Bay area, and should help strengthen our relationships with the many community organizations in the arts field.

The campus was awarded a $1 million endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. CSUMB also received a 10-year, $32 million NASA to continue research in areas that include changes in ecosystems, climate and biodiversity, the largest grant yet received by our university. And finally, our first-year student retention rate continues to rise, which is a welcome trend.

Turning to Student Life, this past year saw the opening of the new Otter Cross Cultural Center and an upgrading of the Student Center facilities, as well as a broad expansion of co-curricular activities and programs.

Our intercollegiate athletic programs continued to grow and mature, with CSUMB volleyball and women’s basketball becoming CCAA Tournament Champions and softball earning the CCAA regular season champions title.

Our student support programs continue to perform well. Upward Bound was renewed by my former Office in the U.S. Department of Education for five more years; 94% of Talent Search seniors enrolled in a Post-secondary Institution for the 2011 – 2012 AY. TRIO Student Support Services has achieved a 92.2% retention rate. And three of our students from Talent Search and Upward Bound earned Gates Millennium Scholarships.

In the area of development, CSUMB raised $5.7 million last year, exceeding our goal. And the Division of University Advancement continues to strengthen its capacity to support our fundraising effectiveness, a necessary investment in our future.

And finally among other campus accomplishments, the following stood out to me: consolidation of Human Resources and Academic Personnel, and the 3rd floor buildout of the Library and other physical plant improvements.

As we navigate the unsettled national and state waters, CSUMB will have to focus on some near-term priorities to cope with the immediate impact of these forces, but also look farther ahead by developing a sustainable longer-term strategy. Our immediate objectives will be to maintain quality as we cope with budget challenges and to continue to focus on improving graduation rates, retention, and reducing time-to-degree.

For the longer term, we need to start a campus conversation on defining our place in the region and in the higher education space by identifying current and future programmatic centers of excellence that make sense for CSUMB. As a first step, I am asking the Strategic Budget Committee to engage in a facilitated exercise to take stock of our current internal strengths and weaknesses and the external opportunities and threats facing CSUMB now and for the next five years. The results of this exercise will provide a basis for a Cabinet and senior leadership assessment of our current strategic plan, and whether it needs partial or major revision to reflect the current realities and trends.

Out of a suitably refreshed strategic plan—and through a collegial process of shared governance—should flow the specific strategies and initiatives that will allow us to thrive in this fast-changing environment. But without prejudging the specifics, the following general directions are likely ones to emerge, as reflected in my remarks so far:

  1. Reaching for excellence in strategically-selected fields, in response to identified regional needs and existing programmatic capacity;
  2. Increasing our catalytic role in regional cultural and economic development; and,
  3. Exercising national leadership in developing new sustainable models of liberal learning.

Even though these are challenging times, we are truly blessed here at Cal State Monterey Bay. We are in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world; we are a young campus unencumbered by old ways and habits and equipped with a vision and culture that supports innovation and creativity; we have outstanding and dedicated faculty and staff; we have amazing students; and we have a region that is looking to us for leadership in charting a bright future for its communities. With your help, we can make it happen.

Thank you, and have a wonderful year.

Office of the President

(831) 582-3532
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