Reimagining higher education for a new student population and era

By Zoe Lance

By the year 2030, California is projected to experience a shortage of more than 1.1 million employees with bachelor’s degrees. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there won’t be enough highly educated professionals to meet economic demand and the pipelines for the state’s colleges and universities will need to widen significantly.

The future of our innovation economy — one where we solve social problems, invent life-changing technology and engage each other in informed, rigorous debate — will require more college-educated citizens than ever before.Education is key

CSUCI President Erika Beck believes that in order to avoid this shortage, higher education must reimagine itself for a new student population and era. She says that CSUCI’s students, staff, faculty and community partners are perfectly positioned to do just that.

“The regional state university serves as an engine for social mobility and economic vitality,” Beck said. “It serves as the building block of our democracy. And when it works in direct partnership with the broader community, higher education elevates everyone.”

When she arrived on campus in 2016, Beck embarked on a listening tour in the CSUCI community and asked constituents what they thought the University’s future looked like. After meeting with many community members, including political, nonprofit and business stakeholders in Ventura County, she synthesized the feedback into several goals. Beck adds that CSUCI must re-envision how it serves students to enable their success, support faculty in finding new approaches to instruction and cultivate collaboration between various disparate units on campus.

“I really wanted to give both the campus and the broader community a sense of what I heard and share my perspective on the opportunities to realize our future,” Beck said. “We’re building a new and innovative institution that enables students to succeed, and has the potential to transform our regional community and beyond.”

The entry point for addressing the degree shortfall is helping students graduate in a timely manner. Compared to other universities, CSUCI admits and graduates a higher percentage of low-income and first-generation students. Beck believes that the University can emerge as a national leader at this and can leverage data to support students while still maintaining high academic expectations.

“Ensuring that our students have the ability to graduate in a timely manner is absolutely essential,” Beck said. “A public university serves a public purpose. We all benefit from the individual learning of our students — our community is the direct beneficiary of our students’ citizenship.”

CSUCI students graduate in spring 2018CSUCI students react positively to hands-on, interdisciplinary learning experiences that help them jump into the workforce. Beck says that going forward, the University needs to ensure that all CSUCI students have access to these options — which means investing more in faculty.

“It is more important now than ever to facilitate an inclusive, vibrant intellectual community, and to increase the resources dedicated to supporting faculty in service of their instructional and scholarly pursuits,” Beck said. “We need to provide greater opportunities for faculty to innovate and collaborate, to experiment, to expand new lines of research and to develop greater connections with their colleagues.”

Beck also looks to the first line of the University’s mission statement — “Placing students at the center of the educational experience” — in visualizing the future classroom. CSUCI will need to build deeper and seamless collaborations between faculty and staff members to create the ideal space.

“The entire University community will work to strengthen collaborative efforts toward constructing clear pathways to graduation,” she said. “It’s important that we continue to build a culture that emboldens creativity and innovation.”

The regional state university serves as an engine for social mobility and economic vitality. It serves as the building block of our democracy. And when it works in direct partnership with the broader community, higher education elevates everyone.

President Erika Beck

Above all, Beck believes that a commitment to inclusive excellence — engaging the rich diversity of the campus community and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential — will help CSUCI begin to think about this reimagination. Above all, she says, the University is in the business of changing family trees.

“When our students participate at commencement, they bring their brothers and sisters, their cousins — they’re role modeling the value of a college degree as a vehicle for social and economic mobility,” she said. “The majority of our students are the first in their family to graduate from college, so every student who crosses that stage emerges on the other side as a role model for what is possible for everyone else around them. For me, that’s really the great power of higher education.”

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© Spring 2018 / Volume 22 /Number 01 / Bi-annual