Fall 2013 Convocation Speech

"Getting Better"
President Ruben Armiñana

Fall 2013 Speakers
August 19, 2013

Ruben Armiñana

Andrew Rogerson
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Margaret Purser
Chair of the Faculty

Mac Hart
Associated Students President

Marybeth Hull
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate

It is my great pleasure to welcome our new students, faculty and staff, as well as those who are returning, to the 2013-2014 academic year. Academic life is sustained by the new influx of students who bring with them new ideas and perspectives. They keep us challenged as we prepare them for a life of learning and active citizenship. The goals of this university — retention, graduation and satisfaction — remain student-centered. While we are doing well in meeting these three goals, it is important to keep improving. The theme of my remarks today is “Getting Better.”

The financial challenges we encountered in the past two years were enormous. The CSU lost a billion dollars, or 30%, of its revenue from the State. Other sources of revenue, mainly student fees, did not come anywhere close to closing that gap—as a matter of fact less than half of that amount. I tell the business community that if a private concern were to lose 30% of its revenues in two years, they would have gone under. We did not. Instead we persevered despite tremendous sacrifices and met our goals, graduating close to 2,300 students this past May. Because of the determined efforts of all us, we remain very popular with prospective students. This semester we will have about 9,100 students. In terms of full-time equivalent students we will surpass our target by the allotted 5% with 7,917 FTES. This will help stabilize our finances.

Let me provide a little bit of financial history: Last November the voters of California passed Proposition 30 which increased income tax rates on high earners, and provided a temporary hike in the sales tax. While this proposition did not provide an additional penny to higher education, it stopped further budget cuts.

As a result, a tuition fee increase of $132 million was rescinded last fiscal year and the fees that had already been collected were returned. To make up for most of this lost revenue, the State funded the CSU with $125 million this fiscal year. An additional $125 million was added to the budget to address other needs such as enrollment growth, graduation initiatives, compensation, and more course offerings as well as increases in mandatory costs. Similar increases are expected for the next two fiscal years with the expectation of no tuition fee increases. To date, the tax receipts are coming in better than forecasted and with an improving economy these numbers should be sustainable. But, if you add all the increases, they are about a third of the funding recently lost, yet with a substantial increase in the number of students served—about 25,000 more students. While our financial situation is getting better, it is far from being adequate to fully meet our goals of retention, graduation and satisfaction.

David Ward, the twice Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and former president of the American Council on Education recently commented that, “Now the pendulum not only is unlikely to swing back toward adequate state funding, but has fallen off its pin and is stuck in the mud.” (David Ward, Sustaining Strategic Transitions in Higher Education’, Educause Review, July/August 2013, pg.14).

While we will be using most of the new revenue to meet the academic needs of our students, including providing as many class offerings as possible, we are still short of insuring that every student who wishes to finish in four years can do so.

This semester we are engaging in a consultation process to determine the parameters, feasibility and accountability measures of a local student success fee. If adopted, this would be strictly used to hire the necessary faculty and staff to provide the classes and services that would guarantee a four year graduation to those students who want it. They would need to be willing to take a minimum load of 15 units every semester for 8 semesters. As a required fee, it would be included in the cost of education at Sonoma State University and factored into financial aid calculations. The recently adopted Middle Class Scholarship program will be in effect and it would help those students with the costs of higher education who do not qualify for need-based aid but are still in need of financial assistance.

In addition to the scarcity of funding, we are also experiencing instructional space deficits. We are over capacity and need more classrooms. While we have been on the list for a new professional studies building for more than seven years, the lack of a state education construction bond has precluded the creation of the needed new space. This semester we have created new classrooms in Chalk Hill on the northwest corner of campus and in the Commons. Weill Hall is also being used as an instructional space. By the way, I am pleased to report that the first year of operations of the Green Music Center has been very successful with more than 112,000 ticketed patrons, many of them first-time visitors to the University. Over the winter break four new classrooms will be created in the Student Union building resulting from the opening of the University Center this semester. A year from now Schroeder Hall will be completed offering additional instructional space. In terms of instructional space we are getting better but we still look forward to the funding for the professional studies building in the near future.

The academic development and achievement of our students are the guiding reasons for our existence as a university. Recently, the Association of American Colleges and Universities whose mission is “To make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education,” published its strategic plan for the next four years. (Association of American Colleges and Universities, “ Strategic Plan 2013-2017, Big Questions, Urgent Challenges: Liberal Education and Americans’ Global Future”).

They have established seven principles of excellence that I believe are applicable to Sonoma State.

Principle 1: Aim high and make excellence inclusive in preparing students for 21st Century challenges. This can be done by:

  • demonstrating essential learning outcomes in gaining knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world;
  • developing intellectual and practical skills such as those of inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communications;
  • quantitative and information literacy, and teamwork and problem solving;
  • personal and social responsibility such as civic knowledge and engagement both locally and globally, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, foundations for lifelong learning;
  • integrative and applied learning such as synthesis and advanced accomplishments across general and specialized studies through collaborative and sustainable practices.

Principle 2: Give each student a compass for his or her plan of study on achieving the essential learning outcomes -- and assess progress.
Principle 3: Teach the arts of inquiry and innovation.
Principle 4: Engage the big questions.
Principle 5: Connect knowledge with choices and action as we prepare students for citizenship and real-world problem solving.
Principle 6: Foster civic, intercultural, and ethical learning by emphasizing personal and social responsibility in every field of study.
Principle 7: Assess the students’ ability to apply learning to complex problems.
I believe we are generally in compliance with these seven principles. In the spirit of “getting better,” I am asking Provost Andrew Rogerson to work closely with the Deans, the faculty and the Academic Senate in reviewing our academic offerings and practices to insure that they are closely aligned to these principles. Getting better is not a single action, but a process of continuous improvement and change led by always asking, “What can we do better?” Often the answer to this question challenges the status-quo, and that is good as it reflects the essence of our existence as an institution of higher education.

We are experiencing significant and accelerated change in the creation, discovery and organization of knowledge and we must be responsive by making major curricular and programmatic shifts alongside the adaptation of multiple learning practices. This is our challenge in getting better.

I wish you a very good academic year.