Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen, in his Fall Address to the campus community on Thursday, Aug. 25, laid out his vision for the coming year.
His theme was “Transforming Lives and the Sacramento Region, One Student at a Time.”
The President, introduced by Faculty Senate Chair Julian Heather, opened his remarks by welcoming new faculty, staff, and administrators. About 900 students, faculty, and staff – along with the President’s wife, Jody Nelsen – listened as he announced four imperatives for the 2016-17 academic year:
Reduce time to degree
“I am asking us as a Hornet Family, as a University, to solve a problem that has existed for over 30 years, during which time our four-year freshman graduation (rate) has vacillated between 4 percent and 10 percent,” Nelsen said.
The new President’s Graduation Imperative, which emphasizes “Finish in Four,” has a goal of a 30 percent four-year graduation rate for freshmen (currently 8 percent) and a 38 percent two-year graduation rate for transfer students (currently 26 percent).
During the summer 2016 orientation, 62 percent of new freshmen signed a pledge to take 30 credits in their first year, including summer courses, if needed. Nelsen believes that if a student wants a fifth year of education, it should go toward a graduate degree.
“I love education. I believe in education. But I cannot morally ask a student to spend an extra $23,000 – and most likely take on $23,000 in debt – if they do not have to,” he said.
“I’m challenging each college to create five-year programs like the one in Mechanical Engineering, in which a student can graduate in five years with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Hence, I am asking the Provost to establish a graduate education task force to examine how we can ensure that our graduate programs are stronger, and that they grow.”
Increase campus diversity, inclusion, and equity
As a result of a task force’s findings and recommendations, Sac State has established an Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. By this time next year, it will have a permanent executive director and a diversity council.
“We must take this opportunity to increase the number of underrepresented faculty,” Nelsen said. “At the very least, our goal must be for our faculty numbers to better reflect our student numbers. … And our goal for our students should be to mirror the high school population in the greater Sacramento region.”
Nelsen also noted that in the hiring process, Sac State must look for women in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. “Plus, we must always be cognizant that diversity, inclusion, and equity encompass sexual identity and those with disabilities,” he said.
Increase philanthropic giving
Sac State exceeded its fundraising goal in 2015 by $4.7 million, for a total of $18,349.178. And the President’s goal is to raise philanthropic giving annually to $27 million.
“We must double our philanthropic efforts, as well as actual gifts to the University, with the goal of doubling our scholarships and obtaining funding for (the planned Science II building) so that we don’t have to deplete our (budget) reserves so drastically,” Nelsen said.
He announced that the “Power of 1,000 Hornets” campaign has brought in $974,250 toward a down payment on the planned Event Center.
Nelsen is co-chair of Align Capital Region (formerly NextEd), which will coordinate the efforts of school districts, colleges, universities, and state and local agencies in the areas of college and career readiness, community vitality, and educational attainment.
Sac State also works closely with the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council (GSAEC) to increase the number of companies locating in Sacramento and decrease the number that leave. This week, GSAEC joined the city of Sacramento in an event at Sac State announcing that a Bay Area tech firm, Parrable, will open a Sacramento location.
“Our community collaboration imperative must extend beyond jobs,” Nelsen said. “For instance, local community leaders, city and county politicians, and school districts have asked us to help to increase the number of public school teachers and reduce the teacher shortage.”
Currently, he added, California ranks 50th in the nation in its elementary and secondary school teacher-to-student ratio, and California will need 106,000 new teachers in the next decade just to maintain current staffing levels.
In addition to presenting his four imperatives for the academic year, Nelsen touched on some points of pride for the University. Among them was new construction.
By this time next year, he said, Sac State will have more than $290 million in construction on campus. The projects include a $53 million renovation and expansion of the University Union, a $49 million parking structure on the north end of campus, and the $91 million Science II, which will be built on a parking lot next to the Hornet Bookstore. Nelsen described the new Science II building, which will include five gender-inclusive restrooms and two 120-student classrooms, as well as an auditorium that will seat 125 people.
He talked of added classroom space, including 820 new seats at Folsom Hall, and of the programs to be housed at Sac State’s new downtown location at 304 S St.
He also spoke of the $163 million worth of deferred maintenance on campus, for buildings that need new elevators, classrooms in need of upgrades, labs that are outdated, and bathrooms that need attention. Deferred maintenance grows by $12.7 million every year.
In closing, Nelsen talked about what worries him most about this country, including violence, bigotry, and hate.
“Let’s do everything we can to understand each other. Let’s be stronger today than we were yesterday. Let’s be Hornets and let the Hornet Nation be a beacon of light for the region, for our students, for our community.”
Nelsen, who became Sac State’s eighth permanent president on July 1, 2015, ended his speech as he so often does by leading the crowd in the cheer, “Sac State is No. 1! Stingers Up!”
And he added, “Let’s have a great year.” – Dixie Reid
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