Dr. Tim White remembers the day in 1967 when his parents dropped him off at Fresno State.
His mother, a stoic, cried.
His father slipped him five dollars, at a time when that was a lot of money.
It was almost a culmination of their sacrifice. As immigrants, they left everything they had to move from Argentina to Canada and eventually to California’s Bay Area, so their son could have the opportunity before him.
White sees families making different yet similar sacrifices every day as chancellor of the California State University system.
“Higher education has always been an escalator to social mobility,” White said as part of his keynote address at Fresno State on Wednesday for the “California Priorities: Focus on Education” event.
Presented by The Fresno Bee as part of the Influencer series, the two-hour event was a deep dive into issues critical to education in the region. Along with the chancellor, several community and educational leaders took part in a pair of panels discussions focusing on both higher learning and early childhood education.
The need for qualified graduates
Having “authentic access” to higher education has never been more critical, White said. Labor market trends predict that by 2030, the state will have a shortage of workers holding bachelor’s degrees — more than 1 million.
At the same time, current demand in the CSU system already outpaces its capacity, he said. Fresno State turned away 8,000 eligible students this year because there was no room. The university system is working to fix the problem on a number of fronts, White said, including hiring more tenured-track employees and instituting graduation initiatives aimed to get students degrees in four years.
A crisis of vision
Audrey Dow, director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, called the problems in higher educations a crisis of vision. There needs to be more and better access to higher education, she said, but, “we are lacking some vision to get there.”
Polls show people tend to understand the benefits and need, until their own taxes become part of the equation.
“We have to be willing to ask what this means for our taxes,” she says.
“What is our role?”
That sentiment was echoed when talking about early childhood education. The problems — and solutions — aren’t a mystery, said Eimear O’Farrell, superintendent of Clovis Unified School District. There is a lack of counselors on campus. Pre-K schooling is an issue.
Mostly, it is a question of available resources.
“We know how to do it. It’s not rocket science,” O’Farrell said.
“We know what to do. We don’t have the funding for it.”
The Central Valley solution
Of course, the central San Joaquin Valley has seen successes. Fresno State President Joseph Castro pointed to Fresno State’s recent top 25 ranking in Washington Monthly magazine. It was the school’s fourth straight year on the list. It ranked No. 24 out of 395 institutions of higher education.
In addition, Fresno State, Fresno Pacific and UC Merced were listed high on U.S. News & World Report’s social mobility ranking.
Others on the panel praised the interaction and collaboration between the K-12, community colleges and four-year universities in the area, and said state legislators would do well to take note.
“The Valley has created a road map in California,” said Carole Goldsmith, president of Fresno City College.
Expanding education coverage
The Fresno Bee announced the launch of its Education Lab at the event.
The lab, working through the Central Valley Community Foundation and the Impact Media fund, will expand The Bee’s reporting resources for education issues. It will employ a team of four journalists who “will dive deep into coverage of education in the central San Joaquin Valley,” Executive Editor Joe Kieta said.
The Bee is closing in on securing funding for the lab for its first two years.