At Fresno State’s first-ever State of the University Address on Tuesday, president Joseph Castro celebrated increasing enrollment and graduation rates and laid out a five-year plan that includes goals of modernizing the campus and connecting better with the community.
While Castro has delivered similar addresses to students, faculty and staff in the past, this was the first event open to the public. Tickets cost $50, and proceeds will go to the DISCOVERe program, which puts tablets in the hands of students. The program has significantly decreased student costs by using tablets in lieu of textbooks.
“The purpose of today’s event was to strengthen our connection to the community and to share where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Castro said after the event at the Save Mart Center.
Student enrollment now totals 24,000, a record. That’s up by about 1,000 since August.
“Unfortunately with high demand comes challenge, and this year we had to turn away 5,000 qualified applicants,” Castro said.
The graduation rate is also up, with 58 percent of students on track to graduate – compared to 48 percent two years ago. The goal is to have a 70 percent graduation rate by 2023.
24,000Number of students attending Fresno State
Castro credited a new advising system that focuses on students at risk of dropping out for the increase in graduation rates.
“To use an agriculture metaphor, the way we’ve made that progress is we looked for the low-hanging fruit. We found students not making steady progress and went and visited them and figured out what they needed to graduate, and then we went to work to make sure that they’ve had those classes,” he said. “It’s really focused at the individual student level.”
Other goals include attracting and retaining quality educators, with Fresno State investing nearly $2.7 million to increase salaries and benefits for employees. The university hired more than 40 new tenure-track faculty this academic year and another 60 will be hired by next fall.
Improvements to the 35-year-old Bulldog Stadium are also in the works. Areas of focus include restrooms, concessions, accessibility and parking. All stadium upgrades will be privately funded.
Fresno State is undoubtedly on the rise.
President Joseph Castro
Castro also celebrated the Student Cupboard, which was opened last year and helps the university’s neediest students obtain food, clothes and other necessities. The program has served more than 3,300 students so far.
Also at Tuesday’s event, Ray Steele Jr., former publisher of The Bee, was named as this year’s President’s Medal of Distinction honoree. The award is the highest nondegree award presented by Fresno State and recognizes “extraordinary achievement and outstanding service to the university and the community.”
Castro also reaffirmed that he will reinstate wrestling, a Division 1 sport that was cut in 2006 due to budget constraints. The university also will launch women’s water polo.
No official date has been set for when the sports programs will begin, but Castro said coaches will be hired by May.
“I know (coaches) are going to be eager to compete. The most important thing is that we do it right. I want these teams to compete at the highest levels of our conference,” he said. “In both cases, there will be a large number of Central Valley students who will want to be on these teams.”