President's Office

Mapping the Future for a University on the Move

Prepared Remarks for President's Fourth Annual Convocation

Jolene Koester President, California State University, Northridge

Thursday, August 21, 2003 Oviatt Library Steps, CSUN

I. Introduction

This week marks the beginning of another academic year at Cal State Northridge. A more colloquial way of saying this is that summer is over. For most of us, summer means the opportunity to deviate from our regular routines and to travel to other places. Those travels typically occur with the aid of maps. Maps suggest places to go, help guide our journey to new places, identify alternative routes for travel, and help us to recognize and appreciate the opportunities along the way that we might experience.

Today I want to talk with you about mapping the future of California State University, Northridge. I don't mean by this a campus map of the physical geography and topography, but rather a map that helps us to organize the available information on the major forces influencing higher education and one that suggests possible routes to follow. Today we begin a process of mapping our future that will extend over the next half decade.

I begin this mapping of our future with a status report on our strengths. I will then identify three national trends that affect all institutions of higher education in the United States. Next, I will describe the specific impact of these trends here at Cal State Northridge. I will conclude with an overview of the steps that we must take over the next several years in order to come to agreement as a campus community about the elements that will constitute the map of our future.

 

II. Let's begin by understanding where we start this journey

The most important thing to report about the status of this University is that we can celebrate the pride in and recognition of our mission, which is to serve the higher educational needs of the people of this region. Within the University, as well as in the external community, increasingly people recognize how indispensable Cal State Northridge is to this region.

A review of @csun, our University newspaper, for the last several years will find example after example of how you--our faculty, staff, and students--through your teaching, scholarship, and learning, give back to this region through our excellent academic programs.

Our size alone establishes us as an economic force. All of our academic programs help to provide the intellectual capital for the region by providing an educated work force. The strong emphasis of our academic programs that places our students in the community to learn and then to serve, positions us as a major force in meeting the human needs for those who live in this region. In education, social services, health-related fields and in community-based programs, California State University Northridge graduates, faculty, and students alike make life better for the people of this region. Our strong arts and cultural programs provide the anchor to the Valley's creative and cultural spirit. As a university we have also had a clear, unequivocal commitment to access, which allows the people of this region the opportunity to get a college degree.

We must continue to build on that mission and to allow the knowledge of this mission to be clear to those of us who work here, as well as those in the external community.

In the last academic year alone, some examples of the achievements of this institution provide evidence of the successes of our mission. Our Library received the second year of a federal grant for the continuing development of the very popular San Fernando Valley Digital History Library, which makes thousands of images of Valley history available to our academic community, schools and the greater community.

Our Michael D. Eisner College of Education went through a national and state accreditation process last fall with a near perfect record. The Northridge Singers again brought fame and acclaim to the campus by being named the best choir in a international competition held in Wales, bringing back to Northridge the title "Choir of the World." And in June, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley selected Cal State Northridge as one of three honorees for their "Star of the Valley" award because of our academic excellence, describing CSUN as a nationally recognized university celebrating 45 years of outstanding scholastic achievement in the Valley.

Lest pride and satisfaction lead to complacency, we should be reminded that the one constant in life is change.

What then are the national forces that bring change to this University's ability to maintain our mission and our excellence?

III. There are three national trends and societal forces that affect our future.

A.The first national force that shapes the choices we have here can be described simply: increasing demand for baccalaureate and graduate education and a sense of urgency linked to that demand.

There are simply more people who want to go to college. By whatever term is used to describe it--Tidal Wave II, the Echo Boom--colleges and universities across the nation, and particularly public universities and colleges, have seen enrollments increase as the children of the baby boomers reach college age. Undergraduate enrollments nationally have climbed 8 percent since 1999, to more than 13 million undergraduate students (William C. Symonds, "Colleges in Crisis," Business Week, April 28, 2003, p. 75). Similarly, graduate enrollments are also increasing at a rapid rate. Enrollment in the California State University system has grown 17 percent in the last five years.

This demographic pressure is increased by the democratic character of the U.S. educational system. Stated simply, a cherished value in the U.S. is that college should not be reserved just for wealthy and well-connected individuals. Because of the critical role that higher education now plays in economic advancement, that democratic value has taken on a new intensity. It is now widely understood that a college education is "portable wealth," as it provides the means for individuals to achieve economic and professional success and for communities to be vibrant and economically viable.

B. The second major national force that affects the higher education landscape is a financial one. The increased demand for higher education comes at a time when the money available for public universities is seriously constrained.

Across the nation, states are in serious budget trouble. A recent Business Week article describes the budget problems facing state governments as the "worst budget crisis in 60 years" (Symonds, p. 74).

The demands for state revenues have also increased, reducing the proportion of state support that goes to higher education. As Patrick Callan, a policy analyst on higher education, suggests:

Higher education's declining share of state expenditures does not represent any deliberate policy decision to substantially curtail state funding. Indeed, state support for higher education has often increased in absolute dollars, even as its share declined. The reasons for the decline in shares can be found in the nature of the competition for state funds, the growth of other state services, political priorities, and the perceptions of key state officials (Patrick M. Callan, Coping with Recession: Public Policy, Economic Downturns and Higher Education, report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, February 2002, p. 3).

While it is realistic to note that there will always be an ebb and flow to state budget circumstances, observers of states' financial situations generally concur that, in addition to the (hopefully) short-term problems related to the current recession, the medium-term economic prospect for public higher education is very negative. Indeed, the states' budget difficulties across the nation--not just in California--are often characterized as "long term and structural" (Marcy and Guskin, p. 23.).

Mary Marcy and Alan Guskin, two higher education leaders in the forefront of understanding how universities do and could respond to previous and current budget reductions, describe the typical responses as "muddling through" (Marcy and Guskin, p. 25). I prefer to use the term "short term" since the approach assumes a short-term problem of modest proportions, which can therefore be resolved with short-term solutions that include, almost invariably, increased class sizes and selective cuts while maintaining the prevailing approaches to instruction, student services, and administrative processes. We must also be mindful of the long term need to emphasize private support for our publicly assisted University.

These two national forces--an increasing demand for higher education, along with a decreasing resource base--then join with a third powerful force, which centers on how the University performs its core mission of student learning.

C. This third national force is less easily explained and understood because it is presented using a variety of labels, such as "educational effectiveness," "assessment of student learning," "accountability," "learning-centered institution," and "shared responsibility for learning." The labels used to describe this force often reflect the perspective of those describing their expectations for change. Elected officials, accreditation agencies, and the general public often rely on the terms "accountability" and "responsibility." Teaching faculty, scholars who study learning, and practitioners within higher education are generally more comfortable with labels such as "assessment," "assessment of student learning," or "creating a learning-centered environment."

Regardless of the label used, at the heart of this issue is a concern for what our students learn. From every sector of society there are demands for colleges and universities to focus on learning.

In the latest publication of the Business­Higher Education Forum (2003), business leaders say to higher education:

To respond to the demographic, economic, and social forces affecting education and the workplace, America's higher education institutions need to adopt new approaches to learningthat are more responsive to the individual learner and more effective in achieving the desired educational outcomes. To increase the effectiveness of learning, educators must provide more engaging, relevant content targeted to individual styles of learning and needs" (Molly Corbett Broad, Sean C. Rush, et. al., Building a Nation of Learners: The Need for Changes in Teaching and Learning to Meet Global Challenges, report from the Business­Higher Education Forum, 2003, p. 9).

Interest and pressure come as well from the general public and others. A recent example of this kind of interest comes from the Career College Association, which is asking Congress to oblige colleges to publish annual "institutional report cards" that would measure their success in retaining and graduating students and in preparing students for life beyond campus gates. (Stephen Burd, "Will Congress Require Colleges to Grade Themselves?" Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2003, p. A27).

As the Association's general counsel says:

You can bury your head in the sand all you want, but that's not going to make this go away. If schools don't make a good-faith effort to really do something meaningful, we could be looking at the government imposing solutions down the road that none of us like.

The regional accreditation bodies, including our own accreditation agency, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, have adopted new standards that require campuses to demonstrate evidence of clear and appropriate educational objectives.

From within the University itself, there is a steady drumbeat to "assess student learning from multiple sources," to "utilize campus-wide common criteria," and to "assess student learning independently of a classroom setting and an individual faculty member."

Each of the national issues plays out in specific ways for us at Cal State Northridge, setting up choices in the journey toward our future. We are already facing and will continue to grapple with these issues.

IV. How do these national forces and issues affect our future here at Cal State Northridge?

A. First, enrollment pressures and patterns. We are now approaching the formal 25,000 FTES enrollment ceiling set for the campus several decades ago. In practical terms this enrollment limit means that we can serve approximately 34,000 students.

An understanding of the demographic indicators for our region suggests continued pressure for admission to our University. Given that we are almost at the approved enrollment ceiling, our choice is to grow to fulfill our mission of access or to start managing our enrollment by denying admissions to some.

The budget bill passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor for 2003-2004 reduced growth in the CSU for this year from the original planning number and mandates no growth for the 2004-2005 fiscal year. This no growth mandate will in all likelihood be short term, but provides us at Northridge a much needed breather to understand more fully our choices and their consequences in terms of the campus' enrollment.

Anticipating a collision between enrollment pressures, a fiscal downturn, and limitations to our physical resources, 18 months ago I asked Assistant Vice President William Watkins to chair an Enrollment Policy Group of faculty, administrators, and a student to "create policy recommendations and action plans to manage future undergraduate enrollments." They spent last year developing possible scenarios, and in the spring they presented their ideas to various campus groups. While the policy group is considering a variety of possible changes to campus policies, key to their discussions is the question: Does Cal State Northridge follow in the steps of some sister CSU campuses and begin to restrict access to the University? For example, do we control the size of the freshman class by setting additional admission criteria? If so, how do we determine who gets priority in admission to the University?

There are some on this campus who believe that we should restrict enrollment to only the better prepared high school students. There are others who believe that controlling growth in this way is incongruent with our deepest institutional values. Even raising these options as explicit choices worthy of deliberation and consideration causes strong emotional responses among some in our campus community. It has been genuinely difficult to even begin this conversation, but it is a conversation that must take place.

It is also important to understand that our enrollment pressures are more complicated than simple aggregate numbers might reveal. For each of the past four years our freshmen enrollments have grown, reducing our ability to serve transfer students. In addition, in the last several years, our enrollments in teacher credential programs have increased by a factor of 30 percent. Some majors within the University have experienced dramatic enrollment increases, while others have struggled to have sufficient enrollment.

In order to map Cal State Northridge's longer term future, we need to come to agreement on a number of key elements: While it appears that we will not grow in 2004-05, do we want to grow in the following years? If so, which parts of the University should grow? How do we manage the growth? Do all programs grow? What is the appropriate balance between undergraduate and graduate enrollment, and between lower division and upper division enrollment? If we choose not to grow, how do we set the limits and boundaries for admission to the University?

I would not easily have Cal State Northridge simply turn its back on our historic commitment to making higher education possible for the people of this region. As one indicator of this commitment, we must be sure that we have done everything within our control to improve our students' rates of graduation from CSUN. As we approach the numerous crossroads and decisions about our size and composition as we trace the map of our future, it is critical to remember that the stakes are high in our decisions for the people of this region.

B. The second major outside force buffeting the University is our budget from the state of California. The state budget situation, simply put, is bad now and looks to remain bad in the coming years, likely even through 2006.

This very serious predicament poses fundamental challenges to the kind of university Cal State Northridge will be in the future.

I could use a lot of statistics and figures to talk about how our latest budget reductions, and those of the 1990s, have fundamentally eroded the fiscal base of this University. But perhaps a better way to drive home the point is to use an analogy in keeping with today's theme of "Mapping the Future." Over the summer, some of you probably found time to get away for vacation, maybe loading your family into a car and taking a road trip. Well, think of this University community as the family, and think of the state of California as our rental car agency.

In better years past, when we had a smaller family, the rental car we received for that year's trip might have been a fairly spacious sports utility vehicle. We had room for everyone and all the luggage too. Then in later years, when our family had grown, suddenly we found ourselves handed a four-door sedan--not bad, but not quite the same. Yes, we could get everyone inside, but it was beginning to feel a bit tight and we really had to pack carefully if we wanted everything to fit. But now this year and for the future, it's looking like we will be getting a subcompact car, and somehow we're supposed to fit the entire University inside.

To put it bluntly, we're getting squeezed. The dollars we are receiving, while they may grow year to year in raw terms, have been increasingly falling short of what we need to maintain the quality of our educational programs for a growing population of students. Until now, this University, unlike some other campuses, has managed to stave off the most serious budget impacts by incremental changes, by being prudent in our decisions, and by accepting increasing numbers of students and using that state growth funding to cushion our share of budget cuts. But now, looking ahead, the Cal State system not only faces future budget cuts, but also is getting no enrollment growth funding at all next year. We have, without question, done a very good job in managing prior budget cuts, juggling priorities, and stretching ourselves to meet the demands of our students and community. But this year's particularly drastic cuts--and those looming on the horizon--will begin to erode the quality of university that our students experience. Just to start, I am talking about significantly higher student fees, increasing class sizes, potential limits on admissions, and pressures on faculty and staff services due to hiring restrictions. The list goes on.

The numbers tell the same story. During the past seven years, from 1997-98 to present, after factoring out increases for inflation and employee compensation, this University's General Fund budget per full-time equivalent student has actually declined by 12 percent. That means this year, on a per student basis, we will have only 88 percent of the resources we had seven years ago to pay for faculty, staff, equipment, services and other operating needs.

So, faced with this predicament, what are we to do? No doubt, we can continue to stretch and whittle and juggle priorities within the same familiar ways of operating a university that we all are accustomed to. Indeed, for the short term, that response may be a necessary choice. But if that is our only response, I am certain that we will continue to participate in a gradual degradation in the educational quality and campus experiences that our students encounter. We will be merely reactive to the forces around us, powerless to influence our own mission and destiny. Ultimately, that is a draining process that exhausts both our human resources and the institution's sense of vibrancy.

That is not the course I would choose for California State University, Northridge. Rather, we need to clearly recognize the seriousness of the budget environment that faces us, and take control by beginning to re-examine how we function as a university.

Now is the time for us to take a broader view of ourselves and our institution, considering the possibility of fundamental or transformational changes--in every aspect of what we do including teaching, student services, and business processes. The kind of transformations that I am talking about are already underway in some parts of the University--for example, Student Affairs and Information Technology Resources have begun working on developing electronic student services, which will allow us to serve more students more effectively with the same resources. As well within Academic Affairs, we have seen innovative approaches to learning developed, such as the cohort based PACE Program. Now is also the time to place additional emphasis and value on the necessity to raise private dollars in support of our mission.

We never will determine how much money we get from the state, but we owe it to ourselves and our community to very thoughtfully, carefully consider just what we do with it, and how we can provide the highest levels of both educational quality and access.

C. The third force is the imperative to become a learning-centered university.

The potential of federal and state legislative mandates aside, we are a university with a clear commitment to the achievement of our students. That commitment makes it possible for us to embrace the direction of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to become a learning-centered university. In 2007 we will submit to WASC the first part of our next re-accreditation -a self-study that will need to demonstrate that we are learning-centered. What does it mean to become a learning-centered university and how is it different from how this University currently functions?

Key to this conception is the recognition that learning takes places from the curriculum and classroom but also through personal development, co-curricular activities and community activities. Key as well is the delineation of clear and specified outcomes of learning that occur through all aspects of the collegiate experience. For example, two fundamental questions as we move on this journey are: 1) what are the hallmarks of a CSUN graduate? and 2) what learning is necessary in and outside the classroom to achieve those hallmarks or outcomes? Becoming a learning-centered university means that we shift the focus from teaching to learning. Such a shift recognizes that the learning encompassed by a baccalaureate degree is not a collection of discrete parts linked to specific classes but rather the cumulative consequence and judgments for all aspects of the learning environment. A final key element of a learning-centered university is that we document what students learn.

At Northridge, we have begun the process of setting goals and objectives within the academic departments. Changes have been made to the program review process to make student learning outcomes more central to departmental missions. It is now time to expand those efforts, to make learning-centeredness so pervasive throughout the University that all decision making is done within that context.

If the entire institution is truly learning-centered, all areas of the University, not just academic ones, can identify how their areas contribute to learning. A tip of the hat is appropriate here for the Student Affairs Division, which has spent the past two years understanding and mapping its focus to support student learning. For example, the Department of Residential Life and University Conference Services has developed three living-learning centers in collaboration with faculty focusing on Engineering and Computer Science, First Year Experience, and Global Scholars. As well, within Academic Affairs we have seen innovative approaches to learning developed such as the cohort based PACE program.

A more formal coordination is needed to ensure that all areas of the University are involved, and that training and other helpful interventions are available as needed. During the coming year, we will begin a conversation among faculty and staff that is intended to build on what we are already doing and also build on the work of the Graduation Rates Task Force. Ultimately, we must shift the primary focus of the conversation to what our students learn.

Complicating our mapping of the University's future with respect to becoming a learning-centered institution is one strong, additional local factor--the limitations imposed by our physical plant.

We have completed the reconstruction from the Northridge Earthquake, a massive $400 million-plus renovation that has produced a campus with a mixture of the old and new. The campus looks better than it ever has. We have new buildings, but we also have 45 percent of our space that is in buildings constructed 35 years ago, when computers and other information technologies were not even imagined at the scale of their current use. In addition, at our current enrollment, we already have 190 fewer faculty offices than state standards say we need.

There are other aspects of our physical space that are clearly deficient and challenging. Student housing is insufficient. Similarly, we need more and more varied options for faculty and staff housing, to assure that we can remain competitive in hiring. Additionally, many of our athletic and artistic facilities are old and outmoded.

As we map the University's future, we must plan for and build the needed facilities that support our academic and student service programs, but the design and use of those facilities must be congruent with the learning-centered expectations we are developing for those programs.

Every five years the system requires campuses to do an update of their campus physical master plan. Obviously a new master plan will be inextricably linked to the answers to questions concerning growth and the nature of that growth. This year we will begin that process.

V. Mapping our Future

Finally, let me now turn to the work of mapping our future.

A.Three years ago I asked all of you to focus on four priorities. That work has positioned us well to take on this new set of challenges. Each of those four priorities is key to a part of the map of our future.

  • Connections to our community ­ We have obviously strengthened our connections to the community. Those connections need constant tending and care because it is this community that we serve.
  • User friendly campus ­ The campus is a more user friendly environment than it was three years ago, although work must continue to make our business processes and student services more efficient, transparent, and effective. To make our student and administrative services more user-friendly will also lead to the kind of transformative change that must occur across the campus.
  • Improving graduation rates ­ The Graduation Rates Task Force laid out specific recommendations that we must and will implement in order to improve the time to degree of our students. I have asked Interim Provost Bain to make the implementation of the Graduation Rates Task Force recommendations a major priority for her work with us.
  • Raising private funds ­ During the last three years we have placed a high priority on increasing our private support and improving our capacity for additional support. Our future successes in generating private support will be critical to assuring enhanced opportunities and expanded options to support our mission.

Each of these priorities remain and become key elements in the map of our future because each is key to shaping the University's choices in response to the strong forces now working on higher education.

B.So how do we move forward? There are knowns and unknowns as we ponder mapping our future. It is obvious that the appropriate consultation processes for some of the decisions that we face are already underway or soon will be. It is equally obvious that other critical conversations have not yet begun.

I raise these challenges and issues for our future with you today not because I have all the answers, nor because I have predetermined the process by which we will come to these answers. I do know that Cal State Northridge's response to these three major forces- enrollment, budget, and becoming a learning-centered University--will set the agenda for our work in support of the University, its students and the region it serves for the next half decade. The answers to these questions are complicated and interrelated. They will challenge us to come together as a community to consider our choices.

My purpose in the convocation address today was to raise the issues, to hope that as you leave this gathering this morning, you will talk with others who were here, and talk with your colleagues in your departmental offices. I hope that you begin to ponder along with me these critical questions for our future. By the end of this academic year, through these informal and more structured conversations we will have, it is my expectation that we will have agreed upon the formality of the process by which we will map our future. By the end of this academic year, we as a campus community will have agreed upon the approach that we will take to consider these key elements of our future. I will be asking for your participation and your help.

For Cal State Northridge to continue its commitment to our mission, we must take into account the strong elements of the higher education terrain affecting all institutions. We must make fundamental changes in the way we do our work--in instruction, student support services and administrative processes. Our core strengths in meeting the challenges of the future are the quality of our programs and the vibrancy of our campus community.

Cal State Northridge is a university on the move. We are a university that is clear in our mission--the destination, if you will, of and for our work. How best to get there in a time of such intense social, political and economic change will require us as a community to map our future. There are crossroads on this journey, choices for us to make, and choices that once made will shape this University's future for a generation or more. In this and the next several academic years, the members of this campus community and those we serve will need to come together to map the future of our beloved University as we have in the face of challenges in the past.

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