Strategic Areas

Appendix B

Context and Environment

Institutional Context

The California State Legislature established Sonoma State College in 1960. The college opened in temporary quarters in Rohnert Park in fall 1961 with an enrollment of 265 upper-division students. The college’s elementary education, psychology, and counseling programs were the principal offerings. The college grew steadily, developing academic programs based in the traditional liberal arts and sciences as well as in career and professional programs, all the while emphasizing close student-faculty interaction. The college moved to its present 274 acre site in 1966. Located at the foot of the Sonoma hills in Sonoma County, the campus is approximately one hour north of San Francisco and 40 minutes away from the Pacific Ocean. New facilities have been constructed and extensive landscaping has been accomplished over the years, creating one of the most attractive, modern and well-equipped campuses in the state. In 1978, university status was granted and the name was changed to Sonoma State University. The university now enrolls more than 8,000 students and offers 43 bachelor’s degrees, 14 master’s degrees, 10 teaching, specialist and service credentials, and one joint-doctorate in Educational Administration (with UC Davis). SSU has five academic schools – Arts and Humanities, Business and Economics, Education, Science and Technology, and Social Sciences – as well as the School of Extended Education and the University Library.

Sonoma State University is one of 23 universities in the California State University System. The individual California State Colleges were brought together as a system by the Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960. In 1982 the system became The California State University. Today the campuses of the CSU include comprehensive and polytechnic universities and, since July 1995, the California Maritime Academy, a specialized campus. The mission and distinctive identity of Sonoma State University—like those of its sister universities—is framed by the overall educational mission of the California State University.

Responsibility for the California State University is vested in the Board of Trustees, whose members are appointed by the Governor. The Trustees appoint the Chancellor, who is the chief executive officer of the system, and the Presidents, who are the chief executive officers on the respective campuses. The Trustees, the Chancellor and the Presidents develop system-wide policy, with actual implementation at the campus level taking place through broadly based consultative procedures. The Academic Senate of the California State University, made up of elected representatives of the faculty from each campus, recommends academic policy to the Board of Trustees through the Chancellor ¹.

In the early 1990’s SSU was primarily a transfer institution but was increasingly affected by shifting enrollment patterns. Throughout the state and particularly in the university’s service region, the number of transfer students decreased. Additionally, because of its location and its local demographics, SSU was unable to recruit a sufficiently large freshman class from its immediate six-county region. The university shifted to a statewide freshman recruitment effort and began to develop its image as a destination campus with a strong liberal arts and sciences identity. At the same time, the university embarked on an ambitious effort to build new student housing and to enhance the co-curricular activities for student residents. The campus now houses over 2,400 residents, representing one of the CSU's highest percentages of students living on campus. Because SSU is located in a suburban, bedroom community, students have found limited activities available to them in the local region. Thus, increased efforts to develop activities on the campus are under way, including the opening of a new recreation center and the future construction of a University Center that will function as the new focus of campus student life.

While the university has placed emphasis and focus on the undergraduate mission of the university, the professional and graduate programs of SSU continue to serve an important function, providing professional degrees, certificates, credentials, and master’s degrees to individuals throughout the region. SSU’s mission statement acknowledges the key role the university plays in providing these programs, which respond to regional and state needs within the academic, business, education, and professional communities.

The curriculum and academic programs have been evolving to keep pace with the changing nature of the SSU student body. In the mid-1990’s the Educational Mentoring Team Program and a freshman seminar course were developed to address the needs of the first-time freshman student. However, the general education program has remained relatively unchanged from its original role of primarily serving upper division transfer students and a small freshman student population. Of primary importance to the university at this point in its history is maintaining its excellent tradition of a strong liberal arts and sciences education, while addressing the emerging needs of an expanding, younger student body. General education and its reform are currently primary topics of interest and dialogue on the campus.

Sonoma State University has engaged in planning across the institution for some time. The University’s physical facilities have been addressed through the Physical Master Plan, which projects the physical expansion of the campus up to its designated CSU Master Plan enrollment capacity. The timing of building projects is set by the CSU long-term enrollment targets and the availability of funding through the CSU Capital Outlay Projects Fund. Additional direction is provided by periodic modifications of the campus Master Plan through the Campus Planning Committee, and by enrollment projections for specific academic programs furnished by Academic Affairs. In addition, since the mid-1990’s, the Division of Administration and Finance has involved the campus community in its extensive planning activities through the Campus Reengineering Committee.

The academic area has also been engaged in long-term planning. In [year], Provost Farish formed an Academic Planning Committee, charged with [...need detail here...]. The Committee produced a document called “The Assumptions For Long Range Academic Planning,” which was endorsed by the Dean’s Council in 1993. The Committee then issued a document in 1994 called “Goals and Implementation Measures leading to a New Academic Action Plan for Sonoma State University.” In [year], the committee members requested and received standing-committee status from the Academic Senate. The Academic Planning Committee continued to work on the academic plan and in 2003 issued a revision titled “Sonoma State University Academic Long Range Plan.” This expansive document covers all aspects of academic life, including organizational structure, governance principles, a description of academic programs, and some specific objectives, including quantitative targets. A number of its objectives have been pursued by the administration, such as the development of co-curricular programs for residential students, the development of academic programs responsive to the needs of the local community. Others have proven unfeasible.

Beginning in 2003, the Division of Academic Affairs undertook a process of strategic planning. The Academic Affairs Strategic Planning Committee, chaired by Provost Ochoa and Senate Chair Nelson, included AA faculty, staff, administrators, students, and community members. The committee produced an Academic Affairs Strategic Plan with a format similar to the current draft SSU Strategic Plan. As background for this plan, the committee studied the SSU Academic Long Range Plan, as well as the CSU Cornerstones plan and AAC&U’s “Greater Expectations” document. The Academic Affairs strategic plan was completed in 2005, and has since served as a guide and framework for setting the goals and objectives of the Division and the Schools. Schools that had already strategic plans in place revised them to align them with the divisional plan, while others initiated such planning processes.

After the WASC interim visit of 2004, President Armiñana directed Provost Ochoa and Vice President Furukawa-Schlereth to co-chair a University strategic planning process, which has led to this draft plan. While planning has been taking place throughout the institution, the intent of this process is to provide an overarching framework that will enhance coherence and coordination among these various planning activities, and allow SSU to achieve a higher degree of intentionality in the furtherance of the University mission and goals.


Demographic Trends

In the past, CSU campuses were intended to concentrate on “Service Areas.” Sonoma State University’s Service Area included the counties of Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Lake, and Solano. Starting in the early 1990’s, the demographic trends in this area meant that the size of the college-age population was insufficient to support the enrollment level needed to maintain SSU as a viable institution. Only about one in three of the high school graduates in our service area, and in California, have completed the course requirements for UC and CSU entrance. The number of eligible students in our service area grew gradually during the 1990’s. In the early 1990’s about 52% of our enrollment came from our service area, primarily from Sonoma County (35%). Sonoma State University had a small first-time freshman class (662 in 1990). The number of transfer students from Santa Rosa Junior College, our primary feeder college, has remained stable since 1990, at about 450 students. This meant that in order to grow, SSU had to increase the freshman class. This led to the University’s decision to target its student outreach efforts to a statewide audience. Targeting students who lived too far to commute meant becoming a predominantly residential campus. That implied building residence halls and other facilities to serve residential students. Full-time residential students are typically traditional-aged students (i.e., recent high-school graduates). That also required the development of co-curricular programs geared to supporting the transition from high-school to college.

The demographic trends for the next ten years show very limited growth in the college-age population of our traditional service area.Moreover, the data shows a rising proportion of college-aged Latinos and other underrepresented minorities in our service area high schools, as is true statewide.² The low college attendance and graduation rate for Latino students thus threatens to undermine California’s global economic competitiveness unless it can be arrested or reversed. Sonoma State University could do its part by active outreach to area high schools in partnership with community colleges to create pathways to college for their students.

College-age Population In The Six County Service Area For SSU
Year White Hispanic Asian Pac. Isl. Black Am. Ind. Multi. Total
2007 11,829 4,809 1,374 76 1,226 283 938 20,535
2017 8,641 8,881 1,545 44 926 195 1,642 21,874
% Change -27% 85% 12% -42% -24% -31% 75% 7%

(State of California, Department of Finance, Race/Ethnic Population with Age and Sex Detail, 2000–2050. Sacramento, CA, July 2007.)

Budget Constraints

Sonoma State University continues to face substantial challenges in fulfilling its mission due to a variety of constraints inherent in the campus budget, including basic funding levels and recent budget cuts.

  • Sonoma State University funding per FTES is less than other similarly-sized CSU campuses

Prior to 1994, Sonoma State University received funding from the State of California in accordance with a complex set of budget formulas established by the State’s Department of Finance. These formulas rested on the premise that funding needs were related to the mode and level of instruction, which produced a different funding level per student at the various CSU campuses. Following 1994, the State and the CSU moved to a new budget allocation methodology, which locked in place budget allocations provided via the old formulas, and allocated new resources on the basis of the marginal cost of teaching and supporting new students. The historical budget allocation process has produced a funding model per full time equivalent student (FTES) at Sonoma State University that differs significantly from other CSU campuses with similar sized enrollments, as indicated below with data from the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

CSU Budget Allocation
Campus Target Enrollment General Fund Budget General Fund Budget per FTES
Bakersfield 6,982 $ 82,151,721 $ 11,766
Humboldt 7,264 $ 96,185,027 $ 13,241
San Marcos 7,394 $ 90,207,080 $ 12,200
Sonoma 7,609 $ 86,357,344 $ 11,349
Stanislaus 7,173 $ 85,823,030 $ 11,965
Similar Sized Campus Composite $ 12,293
SSU Funding Variance with Similar Sized Campus Composite $ 944
Sonoma State University Funding Gap
($944 x 7,609 FTES)
$ 7,182,896
  • Budget reductions have seriously impacted campus operations

Since 2003-2004, Sonoma State University has been subject to budget reductions imposed by the State of California totaling $7,230,495 as indicated below:

Budget Reductions
2003-2004 Budget Reduction $ 5,040,995
2004-2005 Budget Reduction $ 2,189,500
Total $ 7,230,495

These reductions, totaling nearly 10% of the campus General Fund budget, have served to weaken the University’s ability to maintain academic quality, student support, and institutional integrity, and have limited the institution’s ability to fully achieve its mission. As the campus approaches the 2008-2009 fiscal year, substantial additional budget cuts from the State of California are anticipated which will further limit campus financial flexibility.

Assessment and Accountability

  • Over the past two decades, increased pressure from national leaders and state legislators calling for assessment and accountability in undergraduate education has resulted in substantial focus on student learning and educational effectiveness. Accreditation, including regional accrediting bodies (WASC) and discipline-specific accreditation agencies (e.g., AACSB, NCATE, and NLNAC), also focus on evidence of educational effectiveness through the use of assessment techniques, both indirect and direct. At all levels, there have been increasing demands for graduates to meet higher performance expectations, leading to calls for increased attention to evidence of student learning.
  • In particular, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has been a leader in calling for the academy to take responsibility for assessing the quality of student learning. AAC&U has asked universities to define the outcomes of a liberal education and to develop methods of assessment in an attempt to counter a politically popular accountability ideology that stresses standardized testing and a one-size-fits-all strategy for assessing student learning. SSU continues to strive to create a learning-centered culture that uses data from assessment of student learning to enhance educational effectiveness. The new Program Review Policy implemented in 2005 asks departments and programs to evaluate student learning and to develop action plans that address the findings and lead to improved academic quality.
  • The California State University is committed to accounting for its performance by providing periodic reports to the public through the CSU accountability process. The CSU Cornerstones Report (1998) first called for such a system: "The California State University will account for its performance in facilitating the development of its students, in serving the communities in which we reside, and in the continued contribution to the California economy and society, through regular assessment of student achievement and through periodic reports to the public regarding our broader performance."
  • In 1999 the CSU accountability process was instituted and has since evolved through input provided by the individual campuses, the Alumni Council, the California State Student Association, and the Academic Senate CSU. The systemwide process analyzes the CSU's educational effectiveness and honors the diverse ways in which our campuses help meet the state's educational objectives. Both systemwide and campus outcomes are reported on a regular, cyclical basis, with systemwide performance reported annually and campus performance reported every other year.
  • The Performance Indicators include quality of the baccalaureate degree programs, access to SSU, progression to degree, persistence and graduation, areas of special state need, relations with K-12, remediation, facilities utilization, and university advancement. Sonoma State University's data can be found here.
  • Effective 2008, all CSU campuses are participating in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). The Voluntary System of Accountability is designed to improve public understanding of how public colleges and universities operate. The College Portrait provides consistent, comparable and transparent information on the characteristics of institutions and students, cost of attendance, student engagement with the learning process, and core educational outcomes. The information is intended for students, families, policy-makers, campus faculty and staff, the general public, and other higher education stakeholders. The VSA information will be linked to the SSU home page by November 2008. More information about VSA is here.
  • The VSA project is a collaborative effort among the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), and the public higher education community. Collectively AASCU and NASULGC represent over 600 public institutions that enroll 7.5 million students and award 70% of bachelor's degrees in U.S. each year.

The CSU Strategic Plan (Access to Excellence)

Access to Excellence focuses on the intersection of the California State University (the CSU) with the economic, political, and social environment of the State of California, anticipating what the people of the State will need from the CSU in the next decade, and how best to position the institution to meet those needs. It is a public statement of the principles and core values of the institution. It sets forth broad strategic goals that will be the basis for setting priorities and measuring success over the next several years.

As a strategic system‐level plan for the twenty‐three universities that constitute the California State University, this plan refreshes the current CSU system plan, Cornerstones, builds on its successes, attends to continuing goals that have yet to be met, and reorients priorities to meet current circumstances. Adopted in 1998, Cornerstones articulated the principles that have anchored the CSU’s system‐level work over the last decade: a continuing commitment to access; to student learning‐centered and outcomes‐based education; to funding stability; and to accountability.

Access to Excellence is still being developed; however, the CSU priorities outlined in the current draft are likely to remain:

  • Reduce existing achievement gaps;
  • Faculty planning and investments;
  • Recruitment, professional development, and compensation for staff and administrators;
  • Improve public accountability for learning results;
  • Expand student outreach;
  • Enhance opportunities for pedagogy that links classroom learning to research, civic participation, and community service;
  • Meet the post‐degree needs of working professionals (including alumni).

The above system priorities—and the initiatives developed to fulfill them—will provide an overarching context and framework for SSU’s goals and objectives.

Changing regional economic base

The economic base of Sonoma County and the surrounding region has been undergoing significant change. In the 1990’s, Information Technology, Agriculture and Tourism were identified as key industry clusters with implications for workforce development. Since then, the economy has undergone significant transition and the demographics of the population are rapidly changing. Because of these fundamental changes, the following industry specializations have emerged and been identified as clusters of opportunity: ³

  • Sonoma Experience
  • Health/Wellness
  • Professional/Innovation Services

The above-referenced study described these key clusters as follows:

They are "clusters of opportunity" in that they perform well on an aggregate of key measures: job growth, wage increases, value added, employment concentration, and career potential. They also performed well compared to their counterparts in other selected regions in California. Tech manufacturing was not identified as a cluster of opportunity because its job growth was heavily impacted by the recent recession. Health and Wellness was also impacted during the recession, but to a much lesser degree and remained strong in multiple other criteria, particularly with respect to career potential.
  • The employers in Sonoma Experience offered a compelling vision for the region: Sonoma County as a world renowned destination for a full-circle food, wine and relaxation experience and a hub for innovative ideas to grow industries that comprise the agriculture experience.
  • The vision put forth by employers in Health/Wellness was one of opportunities as well as challenges. Opportunities consisted of increased economic growth, particularly in outpatient services and technological advancements. Another opportunity is a growing wellness industry that focuses heavily on prevention to decrease the demand for increasingly expensive medical services. The challenges facing the cluster will rest upon its ability to maintain a primary care physician base, meet the needs of an aging and more diverse population, and access an adequate supply of well-trained workers.
  • Professional/Innovation Services is a concentration of firms that typically help other firms bring innovation to their products and processes. Industries in this cluster include telecommunications and publishing as well as research, development and consulting in the areas of science and technology. The cluster also includes professional services in the areas of finance and insurance because these industries provide the capacity for firms and individuals to innovate. Employers put forth a vision for Sonoma County where there is rapid, specialized growth in Professional/Innovation Services, with an adequate and talented labor pool upon which to draw.

The projected growth of these industry clusters has implications for the changing demographics of the region and the changing population of firms. While SSU draws its student population from across the state, it is a key resource for the region in preparing its skilled and professional work force, so these changes have implications for future credit and non-credit educational programs by SSU. In addition, its business partnerships and individual donor support will be impacted by the character of these changes.


  1. About the CSU
  2. State of California, Department of Finance, Race/Ethnic Population with Age and Sex Detail, 2000–2050. Sacramento, CA, July 2007.
  3. Economic Opportunity and Workforce Development in Sonoma County,