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CSU leaders present importance of college education to churches statewide in ‘Super Sunday’

In an effort to promote the importance of college to communities of color, leaders from the California State University System presented in a virtual service across nearly 100 predominantly Black churches statewide on Sunday, Feb. 28.

Known as Super Sunday, this event was created more than a decade ago and has become one of “CSU’s core initiatives for advancing access and success for students of color across its system,” said Long Beach State President Jane Conoley, whose message was presented in four Long Beach churches.

Now in its 16th year, this event continues to represent the partnership between CSU and Black churches throughout California that encourages the youth to pursue higher education.

With over 50% of students in the CSU being students of color and 33% of undergraduates being first-generation, the CSU has established initiatives, including Graduation Initiative 2025, that strive to increase student graduation rates while closing the equity, achievement and opportunity gaps.

“The CSU system and Cal State Long Beach, in particular, was created to offer the gift of a quality education with the promise of a better life on to you and your children and your grandchildren,” Conoley said. “And don’t ever let money hold you back; the CSU can make it work for you.”

President Jane Close Conoley speaks about the importance of a college education at the Super Sunday virtual event on Feb. 28.

The CSU currently provides more than $3 billion in aid across multiple programs, including the Pell Grant, which helps undergraduate students cover tuition and fees. This aid comes from federal, state, and private money, Conoley said.

At least 84% of students in the CSU receive financial aid, with 73% of undergraduate aid recipients also receiving grants and scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition.

“In fact, most CSU students graduate with zero debt,” Conoley said. “At CSULB, 57% of our students will finish with no debt, and the average debt of the other 43% is about $18,000.”

Conoley added that CSULB’s grad repayment rate is over 98%, providing evidence that the debt is manageable “given the great jobs [students] get after graduation.”

In addition, CSULB’s student services were upgraded last summer to help students who were facing food, housing, or technology insecurities, Conoley said, as universities adapted to virtual learning.

“We do this because we know that a college degree has never been more valuable,” Conoley said.

By 2020, 65% of all in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute. That number is expected to increase by 5% by 2027.

Research has shown that college graduates tend to earn “a million” dollars more throughout their lives than people with just a high school diploma, are far less likely to be unemployed, tend to live healthier lives, and become leaders in their communities, Conoley said.

“Please know that whatever your circumstances, the CSU exists to help you, your children and your grandchildren reach your brightest futures,” Conoley said.

CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said that in addition to Super Sunday becoming one of the system’s most effective initiatives, it has also been the most enjoyable for building connections between themselves and religious leaders statewide.

The grandson of a “Dreamer” from Mexico, the son of farmworkers and the first in his family to graduate from college, Castro, who holds a doctorate in higher education policy and leadership, said he personally knows the power that a college degree holds.

“[My family] worked very hard to give me the opportunities they didn’t have,” Castro said. “Higher education transformed my life. So, today, I’ve dedicated my life to passing on this transformative gift of a quality education.”

Last year, Castro became the first California-born and first Mexican American to become chancellor in its 60-year history since the California State Colleges was established as a system with a Board of Trustees and a chancellor by the Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960.

Since then, the CSU has become home to one of the most diverse student bodies across the United States, where Latinx and Hispanic individuals made up 51% of the student population enrolled last fall. Meanwhile, 19% of students were white, 16% were Asian and 4% were African American.

In addition, the CSU accepted 89% of applicants between its 23 campuses.

“I assure you that no matter your circumstances, the CSU is within your reach,” Castro said. “It is affordable and it will change your life.”

Jazmin Lopez, a third-year business economics major at CSULB, said that as a student of color, higher education has served an important role in her life, granting her new opportunities through internships and scholarships.

While Lopez did not attend the Super Sunday church event, she said she understands the importance of emphasizing college opportunities to communities of color.

Churches may act as social support in African American communities, where families are often part of intergenerational households, allowing elders to have influence over younger generations.

“Church in the right community is very, very important,” Lopez said. “A lot of kids our age or transitioning to college are in the church or their families are in the church, and the information gets passed back to them.”

Growing up, her family did not have many resources because of a lack of higher education opportunities, with her parents choosing to settle down to raise a family instead, Lopez said.

“They didn’t believe in themselves,” Lopez said. “They had a lot of other personal stuff going on.”

But Lopez, who is African American and Puerto Rican, said she felt it was very important to represent the women in her family and pave the way for her future generation by pursuing a college degree.

When it came time to apply, Lopez had thoughts of going out of state until she saw the high price of tuition, remembering the stories of the debt college had put her father through.

Instead, Lopez chose CSULB for its “affordability,” she said.

“I’m about my money,” Lopez said. “If I can graduate college debt-free, I would take that chance.”

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