During a virtual press conference Friday, Chancellor Joseph I. Castro and the president of the Public Policy Institute of California, Mark Baldassare, discussed the ongoing concerns of returning to in-person instruction, equity gaps and economic hardships students have faced during the pandemic.
In December 2020, the California State University said it “anticipated to return” to “in-person learning” for the fall 2021 semester due to the “emerging evidence” that provided “optimism” for the upcoming 2021-22 school year to be “conducted much more in person,” according to a CSU news update.
In order to return to in-person learning, Castro wants to “make sure” the CSUs repopulate the campuses in a “safe manner this fall.”
For the past three semesters, the CSUs have been participating in remote learning in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the state of California. As virtual classes continue to remain in session, many students have questioned the outcome of tuition prices.
In a January board meeting, Castro announced the CSUs “would not be increasing tuition for the upcoming year” and he “knew it was on the minds of students and their families.”
“I wanted to make sure they knew we understood the challenges they were facing and to know that was off the table, and they could plan in a way where it was known there would be no tuition increase,” Castro said.
While the pandemic has impacted CSUs and their financial status, there was “good news” from the “governor and legislative leaders last week” in order to “restore the $299 million cut” from the “current year budget,” according to Castro.
“We’ll also see some very good news in July, in addition to the other investments the governor calls for in his January budget,” Castro said.
The 23-campus system launched the Graduation Initiative 2025 in order to increase graduation rates and eliminate equity gaps. While the CSUs are known for their student diversity, inclusion and excellence, many first-generation and low-income students of color have graduated at lower rates compared to their peers, according to CSU research.
Castro also addressed the elimination of equity gaps as “a priority” and said he “set up a new steering committee” to look at how “those gaps can be eliminated” because they have “been very stubborn.”
Baldassare asked Castro about how he saw “the role of the CSU campuses” administering vaccines during the pandemic.
“We’re going to open our campuses as much as possible to help this particular challenge,” Castro said. “I opened a lab in Fresno that was not being used, and they needed a good place to test, so they brought the equipment and it worked out really well.”
The economic impacts of the pandemic in California have affected lower-income households, communities of color and women, according to Baldassare.
“Given occupation in industry, some people have been spared from very difficult circumstances economically and others have suffered greatly,” Baldassare said.
Castro acknowledged how “people without college degrees” have “suffered during this economic downturn,” and found it concerning “because a lot of those families” have CSU-enrolled students.
“During the pandemic, this is the hope that we can provide for those very talented students from challenging backgrounds,” Castro said. “We can interrupt that and give students the opportunity for a better life and for their families.”