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President's Spring Address
January 25, 2007

Alexander Gonzalez
Sacramento State

Introduction

Good Morning and welcome to the start of a new year and a new semester. I hope each of you had an opportunity to rest over the holidays and to spend time with family and friends. I would also like to welcome some guests who have joined us today from the community who are on campus for a forum on the region’s engineering workforce.

As we begin the spring semester, it is clear that we face some challenges. But I’m an optimist and know that we will overcome these obstacles. Most are externally driven and budgetary in nature. California is a huge state with greater needs than it has dollars. This has become a fact of life for the CSU as well as the UC since the dot com bubble burst a few years back. It is compounded by certain demographic realities that set the southern part of the state apart from its northern neighbor. However, these same realities are confronting most universities today, beyond the CSU, beyond California.

Some of our challenges are internal. Change is difficult and there are things that we have to do differently. As budgets grow tighter and we are also challenged externally, we have to think about how best to deliver a quality education in new ways. This is not easy. As other universities come into Sacramento to recruit students who traditionally would enroll at Sac State, we have to compete for those same students. We cannot rely upon word of mouth. We must learn to communicate to prospective students, locally and beyond the region, how we differ positively from other universities. We are not used to operating this way since we have witnessed a long period of steady growth. It is difficult, especially when we do not have “extra” funding to accomplish what we need to do.

It is not just the faculty and staff members in the audience who are coping with change. Our students obviously feel it as well. Fees are going up. Course schedules are being pressed. Uncertainties creep in. Change is difficult but, it seems, inexorable.

Obviously, we could go on with our list of challenges. But, they are not insurmountable nor should we focus on them too much. We will work our way through them. And, as the budget picture improves, we will be positioned to take advantage of better times, not just to roll with them. In fact, we should look upon these shallenges as oppertunities and use them to make our campus even better. Meanwhile, let us not lose sight of the many things that are going well for us.

  • Most important, 2006 was the year in which nearly 6,000 of Sac State’s students realized their dream of attaining a college degree. They left here well prepared. Sacramento State students are highly valued in the regional workforce. They hit the ground running. This is a real credit to the hard work of our faculty and staff. Thank you.
  • The community thanks you too. Our reputation in the region as an asset that moves our economy forward has never been stronger. Our alumni have moved beyond gratitude for a great education to pride in their contemporary alma mater.
  • We are making a real difference in California’s debates about education. Last fall, the Center for California Studies hosted its annual “Envisioning California Conference,” bringing together leading experts to talk about the state of California High schools. I hope you will read some of what they had to say in the latest issue of Sac State Magazine.
  • Teacher Education professor Ken Futernick will soon release a detailed report on teacher retention in the state. He’s been working through the California State University Center for Teacher Quality.
  • Nancy Shulock, who leads our Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, released a highly influential study in October about gaps in college access and achievement in California. She has another report coming out this year about completion rates at community colleges.
  • Once again we served as host of the only gubernatorial debate in the fall. By the way, one of the television stations reported that Sac State was the event’s only winner.
  • Speaking of media, English Professor Lou Agosta earned a spot on the DVD release of the new Charlotte’s Web movie. He’s an expert on children’s literature, and was interviewed for the commentary portion of the DVD.
  • Our Honors Program is going strong with fifty-eight very dedicated students in its first cohort. I had an opportunity to attend their first semester reception and meet many of them, their faculty and some of their parents. Congratulations to Program Director Roberto Pomo and everyone else who has been involved with getting this program going.
  • We have been very successful in our efforts to serve veterans. We are seeing a growing number among our students who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of veterans using educational benefits in the fall grew to more than 500, up from 100 the previous fall. Jeff Weston is our coordinator of the Veteran’s Affairs Office and we thank him for this important work.
  • We are seeing more students from the high school sector take Sacramento State courses – about 1,500 students this year – through our ACE program, ably directed by Bruce Ostertag.
  • Our Center for STEM Excellence – which is promoting the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – launched its new lecture series last semester with a presentation by Geology professor Lisa Hammersley on volcanoes in Lake County. Look for a talk on clean energy this February by Mechanical Engineering professor Tim Marbach.
  • The STEM group will also be hosting a regional event on campus this April that will be focused on workforce issues related to key science and technology fields.
  • Our women’s volleyball team had another outstanding year, making it to the national tournament for the 9th time in 10 years. And they won more matches this season than they have since 1995, and they did so while also performing at a very high level in the classroom. Congratulations to Coach Debby Colberg and the team.
  • I hope you saw the story about Thelma Matthews in the Sacramento Bee. Thelma was last year’s Top Gun in the campus police department. That means she’s their top sharpshooter, and she’s the first woman in the department to win that award. Her path to Sacramento State is a remarkable story unto itself. We’re fortunate indeed to have Thelma as a colleague.
  • Returning to campus after being at another position, Craig Yamamoto became our new financial aid director. In addition, he recently received numerous honors, including the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Community College Student Financial Aid Administrators Association. He was also presented the President’s Award and the Creative Leadership Award from another organization, the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. We are happy to have him on board once again here at Sac State.
  • I also want to congratulate Joseph Sheley, our new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. I think it is significant that he is twice an alum of Sacramento State, and that he served for many years as a dean on this campus. He knows this institution well, and is clearly very committed to our faculty, staff and students.
  • Eric Matsumoto, Professor of Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering was just recently selected as the recipient of the “Invitation Fellowship for Research in Japan” which is very prestigious and will entail that he spend some time in Tokyo conducting collaborative research and lecturing on his work in building bridges utilizing precast concrete. His recognition comes as a result of many years of active teaching, research and working closely with students.

I could go on about the accomplishments of our faculty and staff for the entire morning. Let me close this part of the discussion by sharing with you one of the spots that have been running on KVIE. For the last year, public television has been donating airtime for us to run short pieces highlighting our special projects and programs. You might have seen them at the top of the hour. Here is one that ran in the fall that features Dr. Eric Matsumoto before we learned of his latest accomplishment. (View video of the Focus On: Bridge Retrofit)

The Budget

The clip you just saw is important because it helps us get the word out about what we do well. We need to do that in the face of the budgetary challenges that I spoke about earlier.

Today’s reality is that our financing remains largely in the hands of the governor and the legislature. I am heartened to see that in Washington DC, financial aid is once again on Congress’ radar, and I am optimistic that the assaults on some of our key federal programs may abate somewhat. Nevertheless, we continue to face obstacles with state and federal funding.

In this state and throughout the nation, funding for higher education remains relatively flat. And in California, the number of students graduating from high school is leveling off while in other places like the Midwest, it is actually declining.

We must work to help policymakers – particularly at the state level – see that education funding is vital to the future of the state. And we must, as a state and nation, ensure that a college education is available to anyone who has prepared for and desires one. Clearly, access and funding are the keys to success for our students.

I know that most of you have had an opportunity to learn of the Governor’s budget that was recently released. While it is now in the process of development with the legislature, there are a few aspects of the budget that I’d like to highlight.

First, it appears that the compact with the CSU will be honored and will provide funding for an additional 2.5% growth in enrollment for the system. For us it means that we will be funded for the very modest growth we’ve projected for next year.

Second, built into the Governor’s budget is a 10% increase in student fees which will total $123M and will be part of the CSU budget. Most of you will remember that last year a fee hike was also proposed but ultimately was bought out by the Governor. We’ll have to see what develops as discussions with the legislature continue and we approach the final budget for the coming academic year.

The Governor’s budget also includes resources to fund the salary increases that have been part of the collective bargaining process that been completed for most units. However, there is a difference of 1% in funding that is still needed in order to fully fund the commitments for next year. This issue will be part of the continuing budget discussions at the state level between the Governor’s Office, the legislature and the CSU.

Finally, the Governor’s budget also eliminated funding for outreach that will negatively affect the system; especially for those campuses that are experiencing enrollment difficulties.

On our campus, I’m glad to report that the Budget Task force has been meeting and is making progress toward developing its report. As soon as the Task Force completes its charge, I will be establishing a University Budget Committee that will be part of the on-going budgeting process for the campus. My objective is to de-mystify the process and be as transparent as possible regarding the budget development and allocation process at all levels. I’m optimistic that we’ll be hearing from the Task Force soon and that the next step in the process can begin.

Enrollment remains an issue. Early reports indicate that we should be fine this spring though the next few years are not clear. With the effort we have made in recruitment, there is already an appreciable improvement in enrollment for next fall. I’m pleased to report that applications overall for next year have increased by nine percent from a year ago. There appears to be an especially significant increase for freshmen and graduate students. But we must retain the students that we attract. I want to thank you for the attention you are beginning to give the retention issue. It is critical to our success.


Strategic Planning

Given difficult enrollment and budget issues, we must be deliberate in our planning process. We aren’t entrusted simply with the institution’s wellbeing for this year or 2008, but we are adding to the foundation that will make it successful in 2020 or 2050. Even as we seek answers to our immediate budget and enrollment challenges, we also must continue our planning for the more distant future.

This is where strategic planning comes in. The campus community will be asked this semester by the Strategic Planning Council to participate in planning for the future of Sac State. The Strategic Planning Council, with representatives from all of our campus constituencies, has been working since last spring. Eventually, the Council will work very closely with the University Budget Committee. Thank you in advance for your contributions to the process.

Similarly, the CSU system is planning an update to Cornerstones, a program that set key priorities for the system. The new “Access to Excellence” initiative will establish specific program objectives, set priorities and guide resource use over the next several years. It will begin with conversations on each of the campuses starting next semester. Students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and community partners will be asked to address a common set of themes and questions. This campus will be very active and make sure that our faculty and staff voices are heard.

At the campus level, we are also engaged in an important process that will guide our planning on campus. We are in the midst of WASC re-accreditation. Many of you have contributed to and reviewed the initial reports. Many others will participate in visits by the WASC review committee. Again, I am optimistic that we will do well and gain important feedback through this rigorous review.

These are not mere formalities or simple exercises. These deliberations will guide our decision making in a variety of areas. More important, they will link planning with resources so that strategic goals can be accomplished.

Higher education faces serious challenges beyond the budget. There has been an emerging national dialogue about the future of higher education – especially about the future of access to higher education.

In 2005, Margaret Spellings, the U.S. Secretary of Education, formed a commission on the future of higher education. That commission delivered its findings in September, and I think it’s worth quoting what she said at the time: "Higher education in America should be affordable and accessible to all and accountable for the important service it provides to students and the nation... We must examine the system in order to determine whether our colleges and universities are meeting the needs of America's diverse and changing student population and preparing it for the competitive global economy.”

There is the real possibility that higher education will be subjected to the kind of challenges that “No Child Left Behind” has presented to K-12 education. Politicians and policymakers are seeking to solve the problems of higher education cost and access. This makes it more urgent that those of us who know this enterprise most intimately become part of that process. We are in a far better position to suggest solutions and to experiment with new, more efficient, more effective ways of achieving affordability, access and accountability. Frankly, if new and innovative approaches don’t come from our institutions I suspect they will be mandated to us.

The good news is that our nation’s leaders realize that higher education needs help, funding, reform and new ideas. They know that America is losing the leadership position in higher education that it has held for so long.

But these issues are generating interest in ideas like paring back high school, universal early childhood education, and “personal competitiveness accounts” that could pay for continuing education. Clearly, there is a desire for bold new ideas, even radical approaches, for America’s educational system. Again, I’m hopeful that viable approaches will be developed to meet these challenges.


Updates

To wrap up I would like to take a few minutes to update you on some campus capital projects.

First, I’m very pleased this semester that I don’t have to make the usual warnings about parking shortages and challenges. With the completion of Parking Structure III on the south side of campus, we now have an additional 3,000 spaces available. I thank you for your patience during its construction.

We have recently announced important progress on student housing. First, we are hopeful soon to enter into a housing project for upper division students just off campus. If all goes well, it will be operational by this fall.

At the same time, we are moving ahead with plans to build new on-campus student housing as part of the existing residence halls. This will add about 600 beds by fall 2009. For those of you who are wondering where it will be built, Foley Hall will be demolished and the new units will take its place.

The University Village project is also moving forward. Eventually, the 25 acres on Ramona Ave., which is less than a mile from campus, will provide affordable, quality housing for faculty and staff. University Enterprises has begun demolition work, and they have an architect and a consultant working on some exciting possibilities for the property that will include a childcare facility and a focus on sustainability.

Construction has begun on the new Broad Athletic Facility south of the Stadium. We are hoping to have it completed in late 2007 or early 2008, and then work can begin on the Recreation and Wellness Center on the north side of the Stadium.

As most of you are aware, the campus signage project is well underway and signs have been erected in key locations. Already, they are having an impact, but next fall, our new students will really appreciate our new signs.

Finally, the new Bookstore is on schedule to be completed this summer and we will celebrate its grand opening in the fall.


Conclusion

Against this backdrop of challenges and successes, let me close by saying thank you for helping this institution develop its potential. Thank you for teaching and nurturing a new generation of leaders. Thank you for the dedication you bring to your jobs and for your loyalty to Sacramento State.

Before we conclude this morning, I would like to share another of our KVIE spots with you. It captures the spirit of what we do and the message that we want to send to the community. (View video of the Focus On: Political Pundits)

The proverbial picture says more than words alone. Thank you. I wish you a great semester.