The California State University system is the most extensive public university system in the country with 23 campuses, and on Jan. 4, 2021, the current Chancellor-Select Joseph Castro will be the first Mexican American and California native to lead the system.
Currently, CSU has over 480,000 students spread across their campuses, employs over 50,000 faculty and staff, and has a diverse student body, with 43% Latinx, 22% white, 15% Asian, and 4% Black students. Castro was selected as the president of California State University, Fresno, back in 2013. He will succeed the current Chancellor Timothy P. White when he begins his tenure next year.
Beth Duncan, filling in for Randol White on Insight, spoke with the Chancellor-Select about his life, the CSU system, and where people can expect it to go in the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On Castro’s childhood and his new position as Chancellor of the CSU system
Well, this is a very meaningful leadership opportunity, especially during a consequential time like today. I'm originally from the San Joaquin Valley, where I serve now as president of Fresno State. I was born in Hanford, just south of Fresno, about 35 miles, and my grandparents immigrated here from Mexico.
My great-grandfather helped build the railroad through the San Joaquin Valley, and he brought his wife, my great grandmother, and my grandfather, who later helped to raise me. He came as a child, and they lived in tents along the railroad and eventually found themselves in Hanford. They worked the land here throughout the Valley and Central Coast.
So I have agricultural roots, and it's just a very meaningful opportunity to be able to serve here in the San Joaquin Valley now and then looking ahead to January to serve all of California as the first Native Californian as chancellor.
On his top priorities once he gets into office in 2021
This is a very challenging time, and I’ve served [Fresno State] throughout COVID, and have a good sense of the innovation that’s occurred at all the campuses and the ways in which we’ve learned during this period of time.
And I think that’ll help me as we move into 2021. My hope is that we can find ourselves in a new normal by the summer or fall. The spring [of 2021] is going to look a lot like the fall, and my highest priority, of course, is going to be to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, staff and families.
We’ll be guided by the experts in this area and make good decisions as Chancellor White has done with all of us over the last several months, and then I want to continue our progress with the graduation initiative, 2025. We have some bold graduation rate goals, and I want us to meet those. We need to decrease the equity gaps that exist in our state between and among groups, and my hope is that we’ll be able to do that by 2025, and then we’ll set some bolder group goals for 2030 and beyond.
I’d like to leverage technology in some new ways. I’d like to strengthen our relationships with elected officials and inspire them to invest more in the CSU over time. And I’d like to help diversify our faculty, to work with our system to do that. I’d like to see our faculty reflect the diversity of our students a little bit better over the coming years.
On the changing technology brought out by the pandemic and if it will influence the future
I do. I think we're headed to a new place. I'm actually excited about where we're heading, without the stress of the pandemic, we've been very creative during this time. The CSU is the best value in the country for our students, and many are struggling financially with their families.
For those who may have had a difficult time coming to a physical place in a regular way, this offers them a new option. And then for faculty and staff, who might be taking care of an elder or a child, this gives them more flexibility. So I'd like to see us consider some new ways of teaching and learning and doing research in the coming years without the stresses of this pandemic.
On if there will be future changes in tuition
I actually think the chances are that [tuition] will remain roughly the same. The Board of Trustees do not support a tuition increase and nor do I, so I don’t see that on the near term horizon.
Some students have asked us to reduce tuition and fees, and the challenge with that, of course, is that we’re paying, we’re still paying our very talented and passionate faculty and staff, and they’re teaching and supporting students in a different way, but they’re still here by and large.
And we’re using the fees to support that and support the facilities that our students will need when we return to campus, so I don’t anticipate any significant changes, and I’d actually bet there have been very few changes to tuition over the last seven, eight years during Chancellor’s White’s tenure. My hope is that we can be even more aggressive around the other costs related to education, the basic needs, the housing and food, and other emergency needs. I’d like to see us become even more aggressive in the coming years to address those barriers.
On student debt and how the system can address the problem
I think, first of all [in addressing the problem], is keeping our tuition and fees as reasonable as possible so that there’s stability there.
The second thing is to continue to raise more public and private money for financial aid so that that reduces the out-of-pocket costs, especially for low-income students and middle-income students.
Third, I would say even more financial management programs so that our students learn how to manage the money that they do have, so they don’t get themselves into debt. I’d like to do everything I can to support that, and I think if we do those things together, we’ll be able to keep our debt levels down, and CSU has done a great job of that. I’d like to see us continue to keep it as close to zero as possible.
Listen to Insight to hear the full interview.
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