September 7, 2017
The beginning of the fall term has always seemed special to me. The excitement of new students arriving, the renewed commitment of continuing students, and the gathering again of colleagues as they return from myriad summer experiences always heralds fresh starts and an optimism for the coming year. Unfortunately, the White House’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has made the beginning of this semester a very difficult time for many on campus and in our local communities. As President Covino’s recent emails affirm, Cal State LA stands in firm support of our Dreamers. And, while the federal action is tragic, students in California continue to have access to higher public education, to Cal State LA and to financial aid. Helping our Dreamers attain their educational priorities remains a core Cal State LA commitment. Our students need us more now than ever.
Despite this, many of our students, including undocumented students, enjoyed a smoother start to the semester. Thanks to a lot of hard work by the entire community, students found shorter lines, experienced greater access to classes, and enjoyed new and renovated spaces for socializing and learning. I want to take a moment to mention a few highlights.
Much of our strong beginning started with summer improvements. Faculty and staff welcomed approximately 8000 new students at Orientation. Recognizing that a strong start benefits transfer students, we required them to attend Orientation this year. In another first, 98% our new transfer students found their transfer credit evaluations waiting for them at Orientation. In the past, students waited months for these evaluations. Advisors were able to better help students who in turn were able to make better course choices and start their Cal State LA careers well.
New and continuing students also experienced better access to courses. The University saw a 7% decline in the number of students on waitlists from last fall. More impressive was the decline in “unmet demand” which reflects the number of students on waitlists in closed courses only. This was down an impressive 9%. While almost every college reduced its “unmet demand” numbers, the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services deserves special mention for reducing their number by 20%! Another indicator of course access is the average number of units students register for and we continue to make improvements here. Transfer students and continuing students demonstrated the most impressive gains but average unit loads for graduate and post-baccalaureate students also increased. This bodes well for all our students as CSU and national data shows that students with higher average unit loads are more likely to complete their degrees. Thank you to all of the department chairs, associate deans and the team in Planning & Budget for their hard work.
Students also experienced improvements in student services. Some may recall the infamous Financial Aid lines of the past. Over the last two years we have made significant investments in Financial Aid staffing and processes. I am thrilled to report that these investments resulted in considerable improvements in student services. An additional 4,608 students received their financial aid disbursements before the start of the semester—that’s a 31% increase from last year! And, as a result, lines were few and students’ needs met quickly. The average number of students in line the first two days of the semester was 7 and by Wednesday and Thursday it was 3! This was an unprecedented success for our students who were able to spend the first week of the semester getting settled in their courses instead of waiting in line. This fall we also saw an increase in the number of Dreamers who applied for aid and an increase in the amount awarded. A very big thank you to Vice Provost Tom Enders and all of our colleagues in Financial Aid.These contributions to and the continued hard work to provide our students with high quality instruction and support are critical to meeting our university’s and our region’s goals. Educational equity remains our highest priority. Thank you all for your contributions to our students’ success.
Dr. Emily Allen, dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology, was recently awarded the Claire L. Felbinger Award for Diversity in recognition of her visionary leadership and contributions to advance diversity and inclusion in the technological segments of our society. Dean Allen has devoted her career to opening up access to and success in engineering for women and students from historically under-represented ethnic and racial groups.
In 2015, Dr. Allen signed the pledge to take action to increase opportunities for women and minorities in engineering programs. The Deans’ Pledge, presented at the White House’s inaugural Demo day, committed Dr. Allen, her college and Cal State LA “…to ensuring that our institutions provide educational experiences that are inclusive and prevent marginalization of any groups of people because of visible and invisible differences.” In that spirit, she has fostered a student-centered teaching and research focus and built a culture of diversity and inclusion in the college. Under her leadership, the college has launched a number of initiatives to recruit diverse faculty, mentor women leaders in STEM, and support the success of our engineering students, most of whom are first-generation, low-income, and largely Latino.
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