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Keeping our promise to California’s students

Keeping our promise to California’s students

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below

A conversation with California State University Fullerton President Dr. Mildred García.

A nationally-recognized leader in higher education, Dr. Mildred García was appointed the fifth president of CSUF in June 2012, during a time of significant challenges to the state’s higher education system. Before joining CSUF, she served as president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, where she was the first Latina president in the Cal State University system. 

Dr. García relocated to Orange County with a plan for CSUF and a commitment to embrace all that makes our community unique. I asked the passionate educator for her reflections after two years on the job.

Q: How have your experiences in Orange County compared to your initial expectations?

A: I’ve been surprised by two discoveries. First, people outside our community do not recognize our rich diversity, and residents inside our community do not leverage it to its fullest potential. Second, despite the size and scope of Orange County, it is a relatively tight-knit community. 

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing today’s college graduates?

A: More than 50 percent of our graduates are first-generation college students who have overcome so much already simply to achieve a college degree. From my perspective, they are better equipped to handle post-graduation challenges than most.

Student debt is a significant issue, particularly for low-income students. At CSUF, our graduates leave with less indebtedness than the national average, which is an important advantage for their futures.   

And of course, students worry about their ability to secure a career after college. Titan graduates’ midcareer salaries are approximately $12,000 higher than the national average of graduates from other public universities, which validates our emphasis on preparing them for post-graduation success.

Q: What are two important facts most people don’t know about CSUF?

A: Did you know we are not funded fully by the state? The state only funds 38 percent of our operating budget, and we receive the least amount of funding per student in the 23-campus CSU system– despite having the largest student body. Second, we are number one in the state and fourth in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics; and eighth in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees to underrepresented students.

Q: What are the most important goals for your third year at CSUF’s helm?

A: We have accomplished much since my arrival, perhaps most notably the development of our five-year strategic plan. Now that we have permanent leadership secured for each of our six divisions, we can implement the plan and achieve our objectives. 

Q: If you could wave a magic wand and solve one of your biggest challenges, what would that be?

A: Actually, given the disinvestment in higher education, a magic wand would indeed be a welcome tool! If I had one, I’d wish for more resources. We are doing some of higher education’s heaviest lifting with the least support. That’s detrimental to not only our students’ dreams, but also the future economic and social development of this state. We had to turn away approximately 20,000 qualified students last fall. We broke our promise to these students. We told them if they excelled in their studies, they would be able to enroll in our colleges. The Master Plan we developed decades ago in California is broken. We need to push on our priorities so students willing to do the work can enroll and succeed at outstanding institutions like CSUF. 

To learn more about organizations that support students preparing for higher education, visit Nonprofit Central.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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