California State University System Chancellor Takes on K-12 - Higher Education

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California State University System Chancellor Takes on K-12

by Michelle J. Nealy

Fairfax, Va.

When California State University Chancellor Charles Reed talks about his commitment to cut the racial achievement gap in California’s primary and secondary schools, he has a ready response to those who say K-12 is not really the business of a higher education administrator.

“We prepare about 65 percent of all the teachers in California and 12 percent of all the teachers in America,” Reed told the Diverse: Issues In Higher Education editorial team Tuesday, explaining how the CSU system can and should have an impact on K-12 achievement.

“I have made a commitment to cut the K-12 achievement gap by 50 percent by 2012,” Reed said. “We need better teachers and more teachers who can teach math and science. I made a commitment to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to double the number of math and science teachers. They are going to come from communities of color. We are recruiting students to become teachers in high school. We even have some districts guaranteeing students a job once they receive their teaching certificates.”

The CSU system is the largest four-year university system in the nation and one of the most diverse. It consists of nearly 460,000 students, more than 50 percent of whom are students of color.

Reed, who also served as chancellor for State University System of Florida, said he is committed to extending college access to underserved groups. President Barack Obama’s plan to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world relative to population by the year 2020 is aligned with Reed’s vision of access.

“I was ecstatic to hear the president say that he was setting a goal for the U.S.,” said Reed. “To reach that goal, the president must provide the resources for people of color from underserved communities to access higher education. I really like people who set goals. When you set a goal like that, you can measure it. You can see if you are on track to do it or not.”

Like other university systems, the CSU system is facing severe state budget deficits. The budget recently passed by the state Legislature reduces state general fund support to the CSU system for the current fiscal year by $97.6 million and mandates an additional $66.3 million in cuts for 2009-2010. Overall, the reduction places CSU $283 million below its operational needs. As a result, the system has been forced to reduce enrollment levels by 10,000 this fall.

“While we recognize the severity of the state’s fiscal crisis, the budget does not provide the resources the system needs to meet the needs of our students and fund our operations. That means larger class sizes and less student services,” said Reed, noting that California’s community college system would have to serve students unable to enroll at CSU schools. “We are not hiring as many faculty members; we are using more part-time faculty and reducing travel.”

What will not be cut, said Reed, are two outreach programs geared toward enrolling underrepresented minorities. Both California State University’s Super Sunday program and the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) will survive, despite economic strains.

Launched in 2005, the Super Sunday program allows CSU leaders including the chancellor to meet with African-American students and their families at church about what it takes to get into college. On two consecutive Sundays each February, CSU officials speak at various churches across the state to share information about the CSU system’s 23 campuses and obtaining financial aid.

“We visited over 70 Black churches this year,” said Reed. “We plan to visit 100 churches next year.”

Founded in 1987, PIQE is a nine-week training program for parents with students in grades K-12. During weekly classes, parents learn how to improve their child’s performance in the classroom, enhance their parent-and-child relationship, and map out a strategic plan to get their children enrolled in a college or university.

The mission of PIQE is to empower schools, parents and communities to work collaboratively to uplift California’s underserved children. There are currently 10 PIQE regional offices in California and 15 PIQE schools in each one of the CSU campus regions.

“If you look out there at this huge [educational] pipeline, that pipeline is filled up with people of color who frankly don’t understand what it takes to go to college and how to make themselves eligible to go to college. Their parents don’t know very much about what it takes to go to college because most of them have not been to a college campus,” said Reed. “California already looks like what America is going to look like in 2020. I think that we have to do some things differently.”

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