September 13, 2012Vol. 43, Issue 1

Beyond the Fence

Part One: "Smart Growth"

As the title of this column suggests, this is the first of several similarly-themed pieces focused on overcoming the challenges (the “fences”) that I identified in my fall convocation address.  It has many elements, including the campus conversation which we will have this year focused on choosing, building and improving our culture of learning, student success, and service; and the understanding and imagining that we need to bring to that task. 

It also has several contexts.  And many of these, like our current University Strategic Plan, Diversity Action Plan, WASC Self-Study, and new GE Pathways program, were also mentioned in this fall’s convocation address.  But, as I write this column, I am reflecting, in particular, on the work of John Aubrey Douglas of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley, who drew largely upon his book, The California Idea and American Higher Education (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000) and several related articles, when he recently appeared on our campus with me for a roundtable discussion on the history and state of public higher education in California.

Douglas has appropriately high praise for the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which, even though adopted in 1960, is probably still the most influential effort to plan the future of a system of higher education in American history.  Perhaps anywhere.  The plan was predicated on three pillars:  broad access to a high quality system of higher education, mission differentiation among the sectors of the system (community colleges, California State University, and the University of California), and affordability.

But as we know all too painfully, the fiscal health and productivity of our state’s great system of higher education is on life support right now.  Every key aspect of the Master Plan’s vision is threatened. Public funding for higher education has declined precipitously; student fees have risen dramatically; enrollments have been subject to unprecedented limitations; faculty and staff vacancies and cuts have seriously affected quality and mission delivery; and the state’s ability to produce a million more baccalaureate degrees over the next ten years to meet workforce needs is in serious jeopardy.  In brief, writes Douglas, we face a very different California than what the Master Plan imagined and provided for most of its existence.  We face the opposite of the Master Plan’s promise—a California less educated, less innovative, and less prosperous.

…the California Master Plan for Higher Education, even though adopted in 1960, is probably still the most influential effort to plan the future of a system of higher education in American history. Perhaps anywhere. ... But, as we know all too painfully, the fiscal health and productivity of our state’s great system of higher education is on life support right now. Every key aspect of the Master Plan’s vision is threatened.

To be sure, there are many factors contributing to this situation which we cannot directly control.  It would be nice if we had a governor willing to make higher education a central tenet of his administration.  It would be nice if some semblance of bi-partisan support for higher education could come from the state legislature and that would translate into predictable and reliable streams of state support and fee revenues.  It would be nice if the Great Recession receded.  It would be nice if vision re-appeared in California, as it did in the Progressive Era and in 1960, when a robust system of higher education was broadly embraced as a key to achieving economic prosperity, supporting social welfare, and meeting the future needs of the state.   And it would be nice if a commitment to “smart growth” for our campuses emerged in Sacramento, among higher education’s stakeholders, and in the CSU that would set bold enrollment and degree completion goals and inspire their attainment.

Let me suggest in this column, and in others to follow, what some of the aspects of smart growth might look like and what some of the elements of a new funding model  to support our aspirations might be.  Let’s start with international students.

International students should remind us that a public university is not just a state or local asset.  It is a national asset with a global reach.  As our Diversity Action Plan emphasizes, these students make important contributions to the vitality and quality of our campus, increasing global awareness and understanding among our domestic students, enabling them to be better prepared for the global marketplace of the 21st century, building relationships and friendships that will enrich and benefit them throughout their lives, and contributing to the ability of businesses, locally and nationally, to upgrade and diversify their talent pools.           

Smartly growing Chico State’s international student enrollment requires a purposeful and strategic approach.  Located as we are on the Pacific Rim, it makes sense for us to concentrate our efforts in East and South Asia, in Mexico, and in some areas of Central and South America.  It requires us to build and to nurture relationships and partnerships with universities and government agencies in these countries and to respect the various protocols of reciprocity and courtesy which are a part of their cultures.  In other words, we cannot just announce that we seek international students and expect them to show up. We must demonstrate our desire to do so by hosting delegations from foreign universities here and returning the courtesy in their countries.  We must demonstrate a high level and long term commitment to these international agencies and the students they represent.  That is one of the reasons why I will travel with Frank Li, our Chief International Officer, and two college deans to universities in China, Korea, and Japan later in the fall.  This is how we translate the potential of more international students into a reality that benefits us culturally, academically, and financially.

Make no mistake about it, the financial benefits of such an undertaking are considerable.  Throughout the United States, international students inject over $20 billion into the nation’s economy through tuition payments and living expenses.  As Douglas reports, they are “a bright spot in an otherwise dismal balance of trade.” California receives about $2.9 billion from international students through tuition, fees, and living expenditures.  At Chico State, just in terms of tuition and other fees, the amount from our 611 international students is nearly $10 million.  That number, incidentally, is up from 569 last academic year, and in line with our goal of building such enrollments to 800 students, or 5% of our total enrollment, within three years.  In addition, the one-third financial set aside on the tuition fees of international students provides about $3 million in financial aid for our domestic students.  This means, in fact, that we do not have to trade off California resident students for international students.  We can accommodate both.  

As this one example shows, we are not without means and ideas to sustain our work.  And, moreover, to do so on a real, not virtual, campus that prioritizes student success and provides face-to-face interaction for students with faculty, staff and peers, which is so critical to their transformation to adulthood and responsible citizenship.  It is – as I have noted in my “Looking Backward, Moving Forward” convocation address – in our DNA.  It is yet another affirmation of why a university like Chico State is a vital part of the larger landscape of California higher education.

Paul J. Zingg

President

[Editor's Note: This article was updated at 10:50 am, Sept. 14, 2012.]