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Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Tipping Point Summit - Where do we go from here?

January 17, 2019
Debra S. Larson, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

The following is a transcript of Provost Larson's speech at the closing plenary of the Tipping Point Student Success Summit.

Student success is where we go, in short term and in the long.  During this closing session, we, VP Lang and I, are interested in interacting with you about our next steps – student success in the short term guided by our own insights and the GI 2025 metrics. Dr. Lang will facilitate a conversation about these next steps.  First, however, I would like to challenge us to think about student success as the long-term strategy for the ongoing vitality of our campus and communitybuilding a national reputation through the primacy of student success fostered by the excellence and focused commitment of our faculty and staff.     

You might be wondering where I’m going with this.

This morning, we were reacquainted with our own changing student demographics.  We reported to WASC that in 2009, when our regional accreditors last visited our campus, our student population was predominately white and more affluent than other campuses in the CSU.  Today, less than ten years later, we are a significantly more diverse campus.  The number of underrepresented minority first year students enrolled at Chico State increased by 56% over the last five years, the largest percent increase of any campus in the CSU.  You can look at the data yourself by consulting the Fact Book of dashboards located through our own Institutional Research group.  

Our changed student demographics framed today’s conference with the imperative to close the achievement gap for our URM and Pell-eligible students. As a reminder, the current graduation gap for these students is significant, at 7.4 and 8.8 percentage points respectively1.  Our own data2 suggest that classroom D, F, and W rates mirror the dismissal rates of our first time freshman cohorts. On average, over five years of data, we report a 14% DFW rate for URM students vs. a 9% rate for non-URM students.  In other words, a 5% gap on the average.  Twenty-eight percent of our classrooms, however, show gaps of 10% and greater.  Of that, we have 687 instances over the five years with gap rates of 20% or more.   

Many of today’s sessions focused on student engagement and instructional excellence.  Why? It is our own conduct that creates the conditions for student success, through:  excellence in inclusive pedagogy; engagement of students in our scholarship and creative activities; our mentorship of students in clubs, service and civic engagement; the relevancy and clarity of our curricula; less cumbersome policies and leaner operational practices; and a coherence of advising and support across all entities. Nathaniel Bryant, a member of the English department faculty, reminded us today that “the bucks stops” with us.  Chemistry professor Eric Wasinger demonstrated that gaps can be reduced through course redesign and supplemental instruction tactics.  

I do wish to speak about how all this fits into the bigger picture of higher education as a timely topic for our longer-term prospects.  Our changed student demographics are in-line with the predictions about our nation’s demographic changes.  Prognosticators suggest demographics and related trends – due to a decline in birth rates, the rising cost of higher education, and societal questions about value – will only accelerate our existing strains and will significantly disrupt the landscape of higher education in the U.S.  The impacts to regional four-year universities, like Chico State, are sobering.  Increased competition for the recruitment of California students from others outside the State could easily outstrip our State’s slightly better high-school graduation data.   

Modeling work through the Higher Education Demand Index suggest that “current demographic changes foretell an unprecedented reduction in postsecondary educational demand3, enrollment peaks in 2025 followed by a rapid collapse of 15% in 2030, twelve years from today.  California’s forecasted growth in 18 year olds is negative and growth in college-going students is flat.  These seriously disruptive predictions are already playing out for four-year regional universities and small private colleges in the upper Midwest and Northeast. The one bright spot: disruption will be far less negative for schools with strongnational reputations.   

I contend that we should prepare ourselves for this collapse by building a national reputation fueled by student success.  And, even if the collapse fails to fully materialize, a stronger reputation creates the momentum and capacity to move beyond our hand to mouth funding position and to further energize our contributions Our national reputation can bstrengthen by two things:  

  • One: Prioritize the life cycle of our students and create pathways for success before they enter Chico State until after they leave our university   
  • Two: Enable and expect from each other, greater excellence and nimbleness in our instructional, scholarly, service, and operational practices focused by student success.  Let’s invite each other to embrace excellence and pride through our work at a publicly funded regional university, “where the action is4!” This morning at the session titled What Do our Changing Student Demographics Mean, we saw many examples of faculty and staff excellence, who are supporting students through credible and systematic approaches that are worthy of the national exposure.    

Yah, yah you say, what is so different about this?   

Of course, we ascribe to the values of student success and faculty and staff excellence.  What is different is that today student success and employee excellence are rather nebulous, they are softly spoken and practiced values that are part of a longer list of interests and requirementsStudent success and the excellence of faculty and staff are not currently our primary, central value that guides each of us: from the groundskeeper to the playwright, from the budget manager to the lecturer, from the IT specialist to the researcher, from the alumni to the community partners.  Instead, we find ourselves in an organic construct of trying to be all things to all stakeholders.  

Now, we all understand that student success is the path less traveled by universities as they strategize to position themselves as a highly regarded institution.  I am a fan of building a future on what we are already good at.  Student success can be that path for Chico State.  

I hope that you agree: A focus on a more or less singular goal might be our pathway to weathering the predicted storms ahead with momentum and strength.  We can plan ahead to further our mission as a vehicle of societal change by successfully preparing every one of our students, who will be far more diverse and more economically challenged than our students of our past     

Our State and our system of twenty-three regional campuses demand this focus. Our budgetary strains will be immediately lessen through prioritization and clarity of processes. Our fiscal capacity will be enhanced by successes in scholarship, service, enrollment, and community partnerships.  The future – predicted to be here in twelve years – compels this focus now.   

Thank you for allowing me a few minutes to construct a hypothesis with you about the primacy of student success as our long-term strategy for ensuring the vitality of Chico State.